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City of Banjul
Tuesday, October 3, 2023

A shelter without name

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During my recent stay in The Gambia I was very busy. In fact I was so busy that I was happy that I still had some vacation left because I needed that when I came back to Sweden. I don’t have any problems being idle for a while, but not the whole day and especially not for three weeks. Because of the pandemic it has been long since I last visited The Gambia so I felt the urge to explore it more than ever before. I have a very good friend who is a lawyer. His name is Malick Jallow, and besides running his own law practise, he also runs a foundation called Malick Jallow Foundation. Through this foundation Malick is helping children with legal issues.

Malick Jallow made me aware of the fact that there are children in prisons in The Gambia, but I will get back to that topic in my next article. Thanks to Malick, my husband and I were able to visit a shelter in Kololi. This shelter is called ……….the shelter in Kololi. Not much thought behind that name, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. We were supposed to meet the manager of the shelter, but he didn’t grace us with his presence. That was a pity, as we wanted to know a lot about the shelter and how it is run. We were met by a member of the staff, she could answer some of our questions but not the most important ones.

This shelter in Kololi is run by the government, as far as we could see it was clean and rather well kept. We only visited one of the wings, where they kept the infants, so we don’t know anything about the other parts of the shelter. It was problematic as the manager didn’t turn up, so our visit was not what we had expected it to be. When we entered one of the rooms at the infant’s wing, I looked into one of the beds. There was a girl, of the size of a 2 year old, a tiny girl who clearly had some kind of disabilities. She was laying in a cot and from what the staff told us, this little girl was laying there the whole day. The little girl is not a baby, she is tiny, but she is actually 6 years old!

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I don’t blame the staff for not giving the girl any stimulation, I blame those who are responsible for the shelter. Being disabled in The Gambia seems to be another stigma, among all the other stigmas in our society. The shelter in Kololi is run by the government, and the people there who should be responsible for the shelter are raised in the same spirit as everyone else – hide your disabled kids. If you don’t look at the problem it will disappear…..or will it? It doesn’t matter if disabilities are considered as a stigma or not, they exist and people who are affected are still people. We write, and we shout about human rights from time to time, but what about those who can’t speak for themselves?

Compounds are surrounded by high walls, and what is going on behind these walls no one knows. The kids we saw at the shelter were doing okay, but they need more than a roof over their heads and some food. Children, fully abled or disabled, need stimulation but they didn’t get any of that at the shelter we visited.

I wish to share with you some of the articles from UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child:

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Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 25

States Parties recognize the right of a child who has been placed by the competent authorities for the purposes of care, protection or treatment of his or her physical or mental health, to a periodic review of the treatment provided to the child and all other circumstances relevant to his or her placement.

Article 27

1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

Article 28

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education

Looking at article 6 the kids that are abandoned and left at the shelter have somewhere to live, but there is no development for them. The only stimulation they get is what they can achieve by playing all day. Sounds great to play all day long, but they don’t learn anything and are doomed to a life in poverty. Article 25 is speaking about competent authorities and periodic review of the treatment of the child in care. It is also speaking about the child’s physical and mental health. As long as kids are young they don’t realize that they lack opportunities in life, but that insight will hit them sooner or later.

Children have a rich inner life and if they have no competent person to talk to, they are alone with their thoughts and questions.

Article 27 is speaking about that: the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. What kind of development is there when the kids at the shelter we visited are left to manage on their own more or less? It is the laws of the jungle; only the strongest will survive. The kids are allowed to stay at the shelter until they are considered to manage on their own. My question is: how will they manage if they know nothing? They don’t go to school, only one of all the kids at the shelter, has a sponsor who is paying for that child’s education. As I said before; these kids are doomed to a life in poverty!

According to Article 28 every child has the right to education. Perhaps we should begin by educating the current government in The Rights of The Child. Article 28 doesn’t give any exceptions, it says EVERY CHILD has the right to education. Many of the girls stay at the shelter in Kololi until they get married. What kind of life will the girl flee into? She can’t read, write or count, which means that she can’t be selling anything at the market and she can easily be decieved by those who notice her ignorance. The girl will become pregnant too young and if she has a low self esteem she will surely end up as a victim of domestic violence.

Our visit at the shelter in Kololi has filled my mind with so many questions. Why don’t the kids get any education? Are they considered as lower class citizens, are they considered at all? Does anyone from the government care about these kids, or are they satisfied with the fact that the kids get food every day and that is actually more than many other kids in The Gambia? This is not a competition where some are losers and others winners. Everyone is losing in this game with human lives, because the kids at the shelter don’t have good prospects for their future. It is a shame that the society doesn’t take better care of our kids, our future.

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