Even in this 21st century when people are making huge strides to ensure that they enjoy every God given rights and fight hard to keep their destiny in their own hands and stay focused on their goals, the fact remains that quite a lot of issues that impinge on our life stay beyond our own control.
For us Africans, part of our reality is that we continue the dual identity of being leaning towards Western ways and also clinging on our traditional beliefs and customs. Can the average African ever be at ease with himself? Look it may not necessarily be a question of being literate or educated, or rural or urban. It is like what was said of Archbishop Malingo You can take the African from Africa, but you cannot take Africa from the African.
Africa has perhaps the fastest growing populations despite the fact that we have the highest infant mortality rates. With all the wars in Africa, our population refuses to go down. It is often believed that the most important unit is the family. In Africa marriage is considered something very noble. So noble that the parents even in some cultures actually select their children’s partner. For them marriage should not be the basis of love, but the other way round. When you got married what was your objective? Was it to have companionship, to show how much love you can show your partner and or to make children and build a family? Yes it could possibly be all of the above, but in many African cultures like in Sierra Leone, they will tell you it is foremost to make love and have children. This is how from the Sierra Leonean perspective children come to be so important. A marriage without a child is frowned upon and most times the women are blamed for it.
Even when a child is born to a family, one is not enough. In fact one child they will say is “no child”. Can you imagine that? What seems interesting is that in this case both the mother and the child are blamed for the failure for another child to come. How absurd indeed! In a typical Sierra Leonean culture you need to have so many children. Part of the reason is that since some of the children will die, you cannot risk having few children. When you ask some people how many siblings they have, they will tell you that we were seven but four died, so three of us remain. Perhaps this explains why some mothers are kind of careless about taking care of children.
The ongoing free health care scheme launched in April last year seems perhaps the best thing that has happened to us in the health sector, though limited to under fives and pregnant women. The problems the scheme is facing cannot really rob it of its relevance if we want to be fair enough. A major missing link in all the efforts to keep our pregnant women and under fives alive is the practice of sound personal hygiene in the homes in particular. The simple practice of washing one’s hands after using the toilet or latrine and before touching food and eating are largely ignored. Go round the various compounds especially in depressed communities and you will see how shit is uncovered and sometimes you see children even playing with their own faeces and even eat it! Oh yes it happens. I know you can drink your own urine as they say as a cure for malaria or so but nobody ever eats his own shit and stay healthy. We fight hard to have children but looking after the children poses a very big challenge. Over the past few years humanitarian and Aid agencies have come to the realization that since drugs are expensive anyway, we might as well just prevent illness. We do not need to allow ourselves to grow sick out of carelessness and then spend a huge chunk of money for the cure.
In all this the mother goes through quite a lot of grueling period… please listen to prince Nico’s track Sweet Mother and you will see the point I am making. We should be reminded that it is unfortunately clear that in times of war or civil strife women and children bear the greatest brunt even when they could be the least participating unit. They normally say behind any successful man there is a woman. I will add that also behind any war initiator there is also a woman. For children, their vulnerability goes beyond imagination. There are cases of children who died in the war strapped behind their mothers back while crossing flooded rivers. A mother who has so many children to take care of falls in this kind of dilemma. Some had to actually abandon some of their children in order to at least save more!
It is a truism that in any marriage that the mother suffers, it is likely that the children suffer too. In the modern world, since many men are shying away from marriage, many women go for relationships just to have children without banking on marriage. This puts the Christian thinking of people waiting to get married before having children, into big question. Do our women have to wait for marriages that may never come, before they get a child? Before the 80s or so women who were not married were not allowed to get pregnant…if they did they will lose their jobs or even be kicked out of school or university. This explains why so many elderly women do not have children. They had to choose between their education and children. Now the situation is different and girls of as low as 13 years get pregnant and get children while they themselves are still children. This is very common today especially in rural areas where they are yet to give education its right priority.
Let us don’t forget that women’s empowerment is very critical to child survival. An empowered mother is more likely to bring up the child in the correct way. There is hardly the possibility of improving the lot of children without empowering their mothers. Today we experience a lot of domestic violence and in most cases children suffer too. If the mother is constantly bullied, this is definitely going to tell on the child.
The truth in life is that every adult today was once a child running around freely and sometimes even naked and dirty. You just think of your own childhood that is if you were taken down your history. Yes some people has jigger in their toes and Nyangabeimei on their scalp. Some even smell worse than animals in the bush. Things are better today there are second hand clothes and you can buy all types of clothes for kids. There never used to be ready made clothes. You had to buy the material and sew.
For a lot of Africans children are seen as investment to cushion parents off during old age. Some of the guys riding Hummer Jeeps in their childhood days used to walk over 20 kilometers to go to the nearest school. One interesting thing is that it does not mean that because you have so many children you are automatically rich or your future is made already on a silver platter. No. some of the beggars you see on the streets today had so many children…but have been abandoned. Those who never had children but got adopted children are today better off in many ways.
Many marriages break off because after one or two years there is no child to show for it. The Hard Life Musical group have a track they call Mama Nar One. I totally agree with them. Sometimes when I think of people narrating their birth right for the purpose of gunning for Paramount Chieftaincy, I wonder if indeed they are actually their fathers sons. You see they say that only the mother knows the real father of their children. The day they introduced DNA Tests into Sierra Leone I am sure there will be a lot of trouble in many homes. This is because some women are so put under pressure that they try to get pregnant by proxy so as to please the husband and keep the family together.
A lot of things are changing around us and if we fail to accept the inevitability of change we might lose out. It is like a revolution… you cannot be too slow for it otherwise you will be dragged behind. Also you cannot be too fast for it, or you will be pulled back. The days are too far gone when women were only to be seen and not heard. For children they should also be seen and heard too. Society needs all of our gifts to make life rounded. Remember there is nothing like a good home… every family has some skeleton in the cupboard, if you see what I mean. Just look around Freetown and see who the criminals are!
By S.Beny SAM