After few minutes of ribs engaging strikes, she stood up and with her somehow rough fingers, wiped the sweat on her forehead apparently on an unusually cold morning.
That cold dawn preceded a rainy night that caused a sleepless night for 37-year-old Rahinatu Abu and the family due to the terrible leakages from the roof of a near collapsing structure, which serves as shelter for the family.
The sound of Rahinatu’s local axe has replaced the cock crow that wakes up residents of Waali-Sombo in the Wa Municipality to their daily activities.
Rahinatu is a mother of six and the wife of 76-year-old Abu Naabau, who is down with stroke for the past four years according to the family.
Since the husband’s ill health about four years ago, Rahinatu has remained the single source of hope for the family and the determination of the young uneducated woman to surmount all the odds to ensure the family survives is unmatched.
THE WOOD SPLITTING BUSINESS
Splitting of wood is a male dominated activity because of its physical nature. This, however, cannot be a choice for Rahinatu as she engages in the difficult trade to ensure she puts food on the table for the family to survive.
She would usually go to the bush to harvest the wood and then rent a tricycle to carry it home where she takes her time to split into smaller pieces that she can carry to the market to sell.
“When I carry the split wood to the market alone, I’m able to get GH?10.00 but together with my first two children we get GH?20.00”, she said, adding that she would then buy some ingredients and return home to prepare something for the husband and the children.
Speaking to Rahinatu as part of the ‘Mobilizing the Media for Fighting covid-19″ project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights in collaboration with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), some of the wood that was too hard for her to split, she would often pack them and burn into charcoal to sell at the market.
Whilst on a hunt for wood in the bush, Rahinatu would often pick wild fruits she comes across including Shea fruits with which she makes some extra money at the market.
“I do all this to be able to feed, clothe my six children and buy some pain killers for my husband. We have no support from family members. Everyone in the family is aware of our plight but none cared to ask how we are faring”, she lamented whilst struggling to hold back her tears.
“Sometimes, when there is nothing at home, I have to run with a bowl to some good neighbours to beg or borrow floor or some ingredients just to ensure that my husband and children will not sleep with hunger”, she further lamented.
Rahinatu said the too much stress and psychological trauma on her was beginning to affect her health and could not imagine the consequences on her family should she break down.
“As I speak to you now, my waist, right hand and knee have been paining me for some time now and this is already affecting my work especially with the splitting of the wood”, she sadly disclosed.
She also revealed that all eight members of the family have their health insurance cards expired few years ago and they have since not been able to renew in order to access health care.
‘When any of the children is sick and I don’t have money to take him or her to the clinic, I often rely on local herbs collected from the farm”, said Rahinatu.
Abu Naabau before his predicament was a security man in a private home in Wa. Apart from that, he was also doing some farming to support the welfare of his family.
All was moving on well according to their means until in December 2017 during Christmas when the lack of a household toilet compelled him to resort to open defecation in the bush in front of his house after enjoying a heavy meal with meat given to him by his master.
“After I finished easing myself, I got up, pulled up my shorts, took a few steps but fell to the ground all of a sudden. I managed to get up and struggled to walk but fell for the second time”, he narrated.
“I then crawled on my stomach to a Shea tree by my house and with the help of the tree, I once again got up but fell to the ground for the third time as I attempted to walk again. My children who saw me then rushed to my aid whilst asking what was wrong with me”, he further narrated.
“After the incident, right from my waist down my legs could not function properly again. When the sun is high, I feel some pepper like burns right from my waist down to my legs”, he added.
Abu now sits at home helpless whilst the wife, Rahinatu labour to keep the family surviving; a situation, which he said was killing him slowly.
The couple has six children comprising three boys and three girls. All six are enrolled at the St. Cecelia Catholic Primary School in Waali-Sombo with t exception of the first, who is a girl of 16 years and has already dropped out of school from primary five because the mother could not afford a desk for her to sit on at school.
Rahinatu who is, however, determined not to see any of her children becoming a miscreant in society, managed to get her to learn how to weave from a neighbor at no cost.
The second, a boy has just dropped out on his own volition despite threats of punishment from the parents. The remaining four junior ones are still attending school but as poverty continue to knock hard at their door, your guess may just be good as mine.
The couple together with their six children lives in a small single room and another one which contained their belongings. Both rooms are nearing collapse and as a result, leaks badly anytime it is raining.
“The rainy season is gradually setting in and we’re just worried about the leakage of our roof. Anytime it is rains in the night, we have to lean on the walls and would often not find sleep throughout the night”, said Abu.
“A good samaritan came to build two rooms for us but abandoned it after digging the foundation. For whatever reason, he could not continue and he didn’t tell us anything”, he said with tears almost dropping from his eyes.
“If I can get a decent place for my children to have a peaceful night sleep and I even die the next day, I would have not only died a peaceful death, but also a happy man”, the sick and worried man said.
In 2008, Ghana introduced a flagship social protection programme dubbed: “Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP)” to provide bi-monthly cash payments to extremely poor households in all districts of the country.
In addition to the cash transfer, LEAP offers free registration in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). In order to be a beneficiary of LEAP, poor households also needed to have at least one member who is elderly, living with a disability or an orphaned and vulnerable child.
Per the criteria, Abu and his family qualify to be enrolled unto the LEAP programme and registered under the NHIS as well, however, this isn’t the case according to the family.
Mr Umar Issah, Wa Municipal Director, Social Welfare and Community Development, noted that even though the family may have qualified, the community they hailed from was not among the 50 selected communities benefiting from the LEAP programme in the Municipality.
According to him, if the family was captured under the Ghana Household Registry data, then, it was possible they could be considered for other social intervention programmes either than the LEAP.
Mr Issah disclosed that currently, out of the 50 selected communities, there were 3,096 households and 9,800 individual beneficiaries within the Wa Municipality alone.
Mr Issifu Salifu Kanton, Executive Director, Community Development Alliance (CDA), noted that the LEAP programme is a fantastic idea which if well implemented should be able to help address a lot of the country’s social protection challenges.
Unfortunately, the reality he said was the poor targeting and over politicization of the policy leading to the exclusion of the right beneficiaries and inclusion of the wrong people.
“The policy idea is good but the practice is bad and this is not helping to address the many social protection challenges the country is faced with”, Mr Kanton pointed out.
According to the CDA Executive Director, the country was done with the Ghana Poverty and Vulnerability Analysis and had gone a step ahead to establish the Ghana Household Register that had been able to map out every vulnerable household in Ghana and could be used for proper targeting of interventions.
We need to have a flexible policy and data that is regularly updated to include more vulnerable families such as that of Mr Abu Naabau and exclude people whose names should not have been there but managed to find their way in there”, Mr Kanton said stressing that this was the only way they could ensure they do not leave out the real vulnerable families.
CHILD AND FAMILY WELFARE POLICY
Apart from this, the Government of Ghana has again through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and with the support of UNICEF and other local and international organizations and civil society, developed the Child and Family Welfare Policy in 2015 with the goal of establishing an effective child and family welfare system for the country.
Direct family support services including economic empowerment through improved links to social protection programmes such as LEAP, capitation grants, the NHIS and free maternal care, school uniforms or school feeding programmes among others are listed under implementation strategy two of the policy for the Department of Social Welfare to fall on to address these challenges confronting vulnerable families.
This, however, continues to remain a challenge for the Department as funding for these policies and interventions remained inadequate and erratic.
Ghana was the first country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) and has also ratified most major international instruments relating to child protection including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (2005).
Both the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) established and provided for the rights of the child, however, in the introductory part of the Child and Family Welfare Policy, though the country’s legal, policy and regulatory framework is comprehensive, there is still a disconnect between law and practice, and between the laws and community approaches to dealing with child and family welfare issues.
The plight of Abu Naabau and family clearly exposes the weaknesses in the implementation of the comprehensive legal, policy and regulatory framework on social protection in the country and efforts must be doubled in that regard to address these anomalies.
Rahinatu is only but a human being and can break down at any time and should that happen, the consequences would be dire on the poor family.
Government must therefore act immediately through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Department of Social Welfare to ensure that the family benefits from all the social protection interventions they qualify for regardless of the community they hailed from for it is their right.
Again, I appeal to philanthropists, civil society and development partners that have the means to help fulfill Abu’s last wish of providing a descent accommodation for his family before he departs from the face of the earth as a happy man.