Sunday, 30 November 2014


Buba is the sweetest, most loving child you will ever meet. Marie says that he is a true innocent in this world. He does not know how to hurt someone. There is only good in him.

Buba lives with his grandmother, his uncle and his wife and their children. Far away in Bessumbala. We are taking him home, so we can talk to his family.

Things are not going well at this house. Buba is not getting enough to eat. We have had to take him to hospital for malnutrition after the last holiday. It is obvious. Nobody is taking care of him. He is being neglected. Severely.

We stop to talk to visit Isatou first. They know Buba here too. They know how gentle he is. They also know how badly he is being treated. Isatou’s mother, in all her pain and misery, stops us before we leave. She brings a plate of food for Buba, to eat in the car. So he at least has a full belly before going home. This gesture almost reduced me to tears.

Buba eats. He sighs with the pure pleasure of the food. He holds Marie’s hand from time to time. Points at the plate, shows her the spoon. Does she see this plate full of food. Yes, she says. All for you. Enjoy.

When we get closer to his house, he becomes more and more agitated. He clicks his teeth continuously. He tries to get up and leave the car. Marie lets him sit down again and strokes his head. It is heartbreaking. If we could take him back to Second Home, we would do so in an instant. Unfortunately, that would be against the law. And impossible for us as well. We simply don’t have the means to offer full residential care.

When we pick up Buba’s uncle, Buba cringes and moves closer to Marie. We drive the short distance to their house. Greet the grandmother. Sit down and begin the slow process of getting to the point. He has a difficult life. His business is failing. There are lots of people to feed. We should give him money. Fix his motor bike.

We explain that we are there to help Buba. We talk about the fact that we need him to take Buba to the bus stop on Monday and collect him there on Friday. The bus stop is 50 yards away from the uncle’s shop. And maybe a mile away from his home. This proves tricky. The uncle rides his bicycle to work and as we can see, there is no way he can take Buba on the bicycle. Now, if we arranged for his motorcycle to be fixed………

This is the way the conversation ebbs and flows on and on. We should buy him a taxi, so he can have a new business and then we can pay him to take Buba to the bus stop. Or better yet. All the way to Senegambia. His grandmother is old, she cannot take care of Buba anymore. His wife has to visit people and cannot take care of Buba. To keep Buba safe, so he doesn’t wander off, he is forced to lock Buba in a room. It is after all in the child’s best interest. If we pay him, he is willing to feed Buba in the weekends. When we propose he gives Buba up completely, he is highly offended. Buba is his. We cannot take him.

It is highly frustrating and very painful. Especially after having seen Isatou and her family earlier.

We put the uncle on notice. We tell him he is being watched. That we will make sure that this situation is resolved. And we offer him solutions. All so Buba will be safe and happy. We are even willing to be nice to the uncle, hard as it is.

He is going to think about the options given to him. He will get back to us. We will wait for his decision. And we will watch him.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


We went to see Isatou. In her home in Tanji. We knew this would be a difficult visit. Isatou is getting worse. So much so, that she can no longer come to Second Home. She is now unable to eat by herself. Her mother puts the food in her mouth and then moves her jaw up and down to get Isatou to swallow the food. Her limbs are stiff and have formed weird angles. She lies on the bed. Her mother waves a piece of cloth around to keep the flies from landing on this precious child. She moves her eyes to say yes or no. And she smiles. Still, she smiles the most beautiful smile you will ever see.

We enter the house. Greet the mother, the grandmother and the great grandmother. Four generations of women in this small room. There is so much tension and pain in this room. In the middle of it all lies Isatou. She had her mother put on her most beautiful clothes, put on makeup and jewelry. Braid her hair. Visitors were coming. She smiles at us as we enter. We touch her, stroke her head, talk to her. Tell her how happy we are to see her.

We hand over the diapers that have been gifted to us, for Isatou. Tell Isatou’s mother Monday that these diapers where sent by Anke and Marte. She nods. It is clear that she has things to discuss. She has her bristles up.  

She starts speaking to Marie, in Mandinka. I can’t understand a word of it, but it is easy to realize what she is saying. She points at us. Those people. We should give her more, we should make sure that she can buy food and soap and send someone to help her take care of Isatou in the night.

All I can see is her desperation. Her pain. It is as if her whole body is crying out.
Please. My child. Help her. Heal her. Please, please, please. Anyone. Do something.

We let her talk. We listen. And then we explain that we are doing what we can. We cannot do more. We cannot heal her. Nothing can be done.

She knows this of course, she knows. And she cries. So we hold her. And try to put all our compassion and all our love in that hug, because that is all we can do for this mother, this grandmother and this great grandmother. And for that beautiful girl that was supposed to be the future.  

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The chicken with a choice

One of the first things I saw, while visiting the Second Home lodge,  was this scrawny little chicken roaming the place. Very confidently. It seemed at home there. Not afraid of the children, not afraid of the staff. Just very, very comfortable. Our manager Marie had this little chicks eye, wherever she went.

After laughing over this chicken catching flies (like a dog chasing its tail) and ants (nearly breaking its beak on the pavement) and sleeping on a self appointed bed (the handle bars of a wheelchair) for a couple of days, I asked Marie about this special chicken.

She happily shared the story. While picking up the brothers Ibrahim and Bakary at their home for the first time, their father gave Marie a chicken, as a thank you for the help Marie was offering him. Now this in itself is a very unusual thing and a reason for celebration. He was the first one of the parents to give us anything. Ever. He still gives Marie things for the home or the other children. Every single time the boys are picked up.

He told Marie the chicken was full of eggs. And surely enough. The chicken laid a large clutch of eggs at Second Home. They all hatched!

The little chicks and their mother where transported to a neighbours’ henhouse, to keep them safe. The children collect the eggs there each morning. Most of the chickens found the henhouse delightful and are very happy there.

Except one little chicken.

The morning after Marie brought the new chicks to the neighbors’  place, there it was. Outside of the door. Waiting for Marie. So, she fed the chicken some left over rice and took it back to the neighbours’ henhouse. The next day the chicken was waiting for her at the door again. She smiled and took the chicken back again.

This went on for four days. At which point, Marie gave in.

The little chicken is now very happily living at the lodge. Every morning Marie and the chicken have a conversation as the chicken has breakfast. The chicken is watching over Marie and Marie is watching over the chicken. It is part of the family now.

This chicken got to choose