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By Wim van Welzen, chairperson Child Care Africa Foundation
There were no roads to reach him. We went with boda-bodas (scooter taxis) using narrow footpaths, through tall grass, thorn bushes and dry river beddings. When we arrived, the old man was sitting behind a round mud hut with a thatched roof, on a piece of cowskin. During the day he sits on it, at night it serves as a mattress. He told us that he has three children; two daughters and a son. We guess he is at least 70 years old. His wife died shortly after the birth of his youngest daughter, about 9 years ago. Since then, his youngest daughter Esther has lived with his oldest daughter, who is already married.
The old man used to have a lot of cattle. He was a rich man. But his livestock was stolen by neighboring tribes, and his wealth was suddenly gone. He had always been busy as a beekeeper, with some homemade beehives. He decided to expand the number of beehives in an effort to generate more income. Five years ago, when he was trying to hang a hollowed-out tree trunk, which was to serve as a beehive, in the tree, he fell. The accident left both his legs paralyzed. At the hospital it turned out that nothing could be done. When the lame old man was carried home again, his last wealth was gone. The community took him in and takes care of him.
Then an eye disease presented itself. The lame old man had no money for medication. He is now practically blind and sits on his cowskin all day. His only son never went to school. He is a goat shepherd. He looks well dressed. However, his future is very uncertain. Because without cows for a dowry, he cannot marry a girl and therefore cannot start a family.
I asked the blind lame old man; Do you, sitting here, think mainly of the past or mainly of the future? He almost started to cry. He felt he had failed as a father by not sending his first two children to school. He deeply regrets that. The fact that his youngest daughter can now go to school makes him very grateful. He makes this clear to us. She has a better future now. The old man mainly thinks about how he will die. Now that Esther is receiving education and guidance, he is at peace. She’ll be fine.
Esther is a vulnerable girl of 9 years old. But she has a spirited character. She used to go to school every day on her own initiative, without money. She was often turned away. All in all, she only had a few days of lessons. Now she is in the second grade of primary school with the help of CCA. She sleeps and eats at school. And if she’s sick, she can get help from CCA. During vacations she goes home and takes care of her blind lame old and loving father.
We promise the man to keep a close eye on his daughter Esther. I hold out my hand to say goodbye. He doesn’t see that, of course, until bystanders call out to him. I wish him God’s blessing and leave him with a heavy heart. Later, I often thought of what the prophet Isaiah wrote in chapter 35. It is an encounter that has stayed with me to this day. That is why I would like to share this story with you.