More often than not, one gets to hear about the glaring incidence of poverty in Africa and its attending consequences on its people. Right here at home in Sierra Leone, various explanations have been given as the causes of this scourge, and they include bad governance, corruption in high places and the sickening rate of illiteracy.
Many attempts have been made by successive governments to curb the trend of these so called causes. Well-meaning donor countries have heard our cries for help and instead of just watching in disgust as we make a snail pace movement in the UN Human Development Index, have made great contributions in those areas we point at as the causes for our deplorable situation like education, health and even gave us the ultimatum of practicing democracy and good governance in return for lots of goodies.
My question is; have these therapeutic interventions really advanced our cause? Are we any less poor than when our parents had to pinch and scrape to send us to school, and make no mention of the leisure of going to kindergarten, which was at that time the province of only the elite?
In my own mind, untainted by the privilege of being born with a silver spoon provocatively clasped between my by then soft pink lips, it is an emphatic no! My lack of such privileges gave me the unenviable opportunity of observing life as it is lived in what I would term the incubatory zone of poverty-recycling the slums of Freetown.
Over the years, I watched how people managed to wallow in abject poverty, passing it on to the next generation like a baton in a relay that seems never to lack a receiving back hand. My conclusion is that poverty recycling can be nipped at the very first community we find ourselves: the home.
If only we can stir up in the home, kill our lackadaisical attitude of limiting ourselves to the physical and economical status of where we came from, those situations we might be tempted to view as acceptable in our home environments and construct a mind of aspiring to better our lots from the acceptable station of our family backgrounds, thus taking the first step to breaking this vicious cycle, link after link.
It is no secret that there are generations of the same families living in the same slum cities. Another grave reality is that many of these families developed family ties not because they hailed from the same village or so, but because circumstances have bound them.
Please allow me to state the very obvious process of the slum family links. The typical African believes that having as many children as their biological makeup can allow, is a show of strength and pride. In this misguided train of thought, parents go on to have more children than they can logically care for, so right from this home community emerge young citizens who, except through divine intervention, are doomed to a life of lack.
These citizens grow up in the walls of their slum community, with very little zest to discover life on the other side. Every opportunity that goes the way of these children is less than their compatriots from affluent backgrounds. Their horizon is limited to what they see as the accepted norm.
Before some of these children can learn to pronounce the word “success”, they have immersed themselves in unsavory sexual activities that have be forced on them by inadequate living and feeding conditions. The most likely outcome is that the young daughter of family “A” has been put in the family way by the son of family “B”, who has led the unsuspecting (in some cases) girl to experimenting what he has managed to see being done by adults in not so private quarters.
Both families may then engage in a feud, in one case, the parents of the girl sends her away to live with the already poor parents of the young “father” and that family now has two extra mouths to feed, causing immense hardship.
On the other hand, the parents of the girl may swallow the bitter pill and continue to keep and care for their daughter, her baby and sadly, contribute to the baby’s father’s wellbeing because the girl would be sure to feel pity for her baby’s father and would share her food and stuff with him. This is another link added to the poverty cycle as this unplanned baby is born and bred into the same situation as its parents before it.
What can the heads of the home community do? In the first instant, they should have just the number of children they can adequately cater for. Even if they are illiterate, they should observe the growing trend of civilization and opportunities that abound and ensure their children get adequate education to enhance their chances of entering the already highly competitive job market.
Let the children know that the generation of the sixties, were the last to have attained a high school certificate that made them as employable as today’s generation of university graduates, and for this reason they have to aspire for higher heights.
The youths can do better than complaining that they want to get a university education but have nobody to support them. Get out there and find work that would earn you money to get that university education! May God help you if you turn out to be the only success story in your family/ the African style of having to care for so many extended family members is contributing to building more links in the cycle of poverty.
Families that continue to take responsibility for their grown children and their own children will continue to remain poor. As one very inspirational young person passionately implored at the recently held 17th African Union Summit on the theme:
“Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development if you cannot prepare the future for us, please, please prepare us for the future”. Let us prepare the children for the future as preparing the future seems to be a herculean task for us as parents and politicians.
By Samuella J. Conteh