Poverty shatters young dream

At 13, Godfrey Dick is already a parent fending for his two young brothers and a sister.  He dropped from school and has been in police cell four times. What went wrong with these minors and what does the future hold for them? Fatsani Gunya tells the whole story.

At 13, a child is supposed to be in Form One, or at least, in Standard Eight. Not only that, a child is also supposed to be sure of their parent. But Lilongwe-based Godfrey Dick from Chiuzira Village at Area 23 is living a different childhood.

He is not in school, he does know his father, and in fact, he is not even sure of his name.

“The surname Dick is not really my father’s. I just adopted it as the school demanded one when I went for enrollment at Mchesi Primary. It is only now that I have learnt that a Mr Msukwa [now deceased] fathered me,” says a sullen looking Godfrey.

His story is shared by his siblings: Joseph aged 11; Hilda, 4 and Chisomo, 2.

“They all are not sure of their fathers’ identity and whereabouts. We all have different fathers whom we don’t know,” reveals Godfrey.

‘Our mother vanished’

But the children have a living mother who has been with them until two months ago when she went on the road and just vanished, leaving Godfrey to pick up the reigns of the small family.

The mother, whose maiden name is Fanny Kamfumu, is said to have left for Salima where she had escorted a funeral of a friend. She is yet to come back from the trip but other quarters speculate that she may be into prostitution there.

The fact that the ‘friend’ who their mother had escorted returned a fortnight ago to settle the overdue house rentals only increased speculation.

“Even before that, our mother was rarely at home. The trend started when we were putting up in Mchesi. She could vanish for a week or two, only to turn up when the rent was due. It’s her habit and we are clueless of what she’s up to.

“Though we feel the pinch of her frequent ‘trips’, we can’t quiz her as she is the only parent we know.”

As expected, life with a poor single parent has been hard for Godfrey. Though the mother used to work at a restaurant at Area 3 Market, Lilongwe,  life became harder in 2007. With babies coming fast and thick, and Joseph still deemed very young for the task, Godfrey was soon overwhelmed with household chores Fanny expected of him.

According to the children’s granny, 69-year-old Mercy James, her daughter is currently expecting a fifth child.

“Of course, it came as a rumour and I am only waiting for her to name the father of this latest development,” she confirmed.

‘I had to drop out of school’

With nothing to support his education and tired of going to school on an empty stomach, Godfrey dropped out of school. Painfully, he saw his dream of becoming a president of this nation shattered. Soon he resorted to fend for himself from the streets but little did he know that it was the beginning of the end of his childhood. It was like preparing him for the present status of ‘parenthood’.

A day in the life of this young family gives one proof that responsibility is indeed the price of greatness.

Since Fanny vanished, Godfrey’s day starts at around 4am. He roasts some groundnuts; usually a kilo to sell in town. By the time Hilda and Chisomo wake up, Godfrey is already in town soliciting ways to bring food on the table.

Used to the situation, Joseph has joined the trend. He does menial jobs around the nearest market place.

“I help out at some fried chips outlets where I peel potatoes for K30 a day. To me, that’s better than nothing as the ‘bosses’ provide me with some chips for my lunch.

On his part, Joseph rushes home at noon to check on his siblings as Godfrey is only expected back at dusk. With the K30, he buys them some locally made snacks [made of wheat flour and potatoes].

“On a good day, I make up to about K350 from the groundnut sales and this is usually before 10am. With more luck, the amount doubles through commissions I get through selling some people’s plastic carrier bags,” explains Godfrey.

‘I have been locked up four times’

However, not all days are Sundays for poor Godfrey. Patrol police frequently chase him and other vendors off the streets, sometimes even locking them up. He has already been locked up four times this year alone at Area 3 Police station.

He recalls the living conditions as not conducive to inmates; to both the young and adults with food, beddings and sanitary appliances all not guaranteed.

“The last time I was locked up, I spent about four days and I remember to have eaten only once when some prisoners invited me for some lunch. The next day, they came to pick one of my colleagues, saying I had already eaten the previous day,” recalls Godfrey.

One thing that still remains in his head is the sight of a dead cellmate.

“It was the first time I saw a dead man. The bad thing is that there is no quarantine for the ill in police cells and I was afraid that we would all get infected.”

Such tales scared Joseph off the streets. The distance between his home and town also contributed to his vending closer home.

The last time Godfrey was locked up; he was bailed out by Tikondane Care, an organisation dedicated to improve the welfare of children on and off the streets.

“If I had a choice, I would quit the streets. However, I am smarter nowadays.  I easily evade the police. The thought of Hilda and Chisomo back home always make me to be resilient, never to give up too easily.”

And to ensure he gets them at least a meal a day, Godfrey has diversified his business enterprise by starting selling empty plastic bottles collected from various refuse dumping areas across Area 23.

But the story took a new dimension just before Christmas when the child headed family got a perfect Christmas present as EveryChild donated some relief items to the four. The items, in excess of K75 000 in value, included bedding, foodstuffs, toiletries, clothes and some school learning materials.

Suddenly, Godfrey’s dream of a presidency got revived. No wonder he was quick to pledge to return to school and enroll the others once schools opened this week.

Speaking when presenting the items; Every Child programme officer William Kholongo said helping out such children falls under the organisation’s domain.

“As a matter of fact, children are the sole reason EveryChild exists. By nature, we are a developmental charitable organisation working for a world where children without or at risk of losing parental care enjoy the right to a childhood in a safe and caring family free from poverty, violence and exploitation,” he said.

Heeding to Nelson Mandela’s warning of “No easy walk to freedom”; it can probably be too early for the wannabe president to call for a celebration as the EveryChild donation was just meant for relief over the festive season.

Who knows, come next week, Godfrey may be back on the streets with Hilda and Chisomo left licking their lips with hunger once again.

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