INSIDE THE ‘GLASS HOUSE’ OF HOMELESS KIDS ROAMING STREETS OF UYO
By Enwono-Abasi Elisha/David David
There is a proliferation of homeless children living permanently on the streets of Uyo. These children live on alms. Despite the austerities they face daily on the streets, they are determined to survive and live as other kids who have good parental care.
Crest newspaper had a conversation with some of these children who are aged between 6 and 16. They usually gather in clusters doing nothing meaningful to the society but for themselves. They have taught themselves how to face the troubles of life and survive at all cost on the streets.
A cross section of the street children around University of Uyo main entrance.
They do not look bothered about the heart-rending circumstances they find themselves.
With few ruffled naira notes ranging from N5.00 to N50.00, amounting to nothing really tangible, they line up in the morning and buy at most two balls of bean cake (akara) each for breakfast. Some days, that would be all they have to eat the whole day. Some of the very young ones fight to hide their little change in their pockets away from the preying eyes of the elderly ones who are fond of bullying them to take their money.
They are unkempt – adorning unwashed, tattered clothes, scaly-dusty-skin typical of ghetto kids who have not had good bath for months. Visible scars of old wounds and fresh wounds that are still bleeding are common on every part of their body. Old reddish cuts on their skins are a lucre for flies to feast on. Their body, their wounds, and clothes ooze a strong stench.
These street kids have different stories and reasons for living on the streets, jumping at every passer-by begging for money for food. Their shelter is the bus stop at University of Uyo first gate and they call the place their ‘glass house’.
More of the street children.
Some others live in a rented apartment offered to them by Hon. Ukai Udeme, former Vice Chairman of Uyo Local Government Area. They live there in Itiam and trek about two kilometers to plaza, University of Uyo main entrance, and some of them trek up to 5kms to where they hang around and beg for alms.
One of the homeless children was caught bullying another homeless child, Precious Okon Bassey, to collect the money he got earlier in the day through begging. On sighting these reporters, he left the child he was molesting and ran to them and begged for money.
Crest reporters who interacted with about a score of street kids at different locations in Uyo found out that the homeless children are products of failed marriages, separation caused by spousal conflicts and polygamous homes.
• The world of street kids in Uyo
One street child happens to be the oldest in this cluster living around the University of Uyo. He hails from Ibafo, Lagos State. His mother is from Ibagwa, Abak local government area in Akwa Ibom state. Master Isaac Akaneno Umoren, said his mother shot his father to death in Lagos and ran away with him as a child. Later, she dumped and left him in Ibagwa.
Since then life has moved him from one hand to another. Currently, he is fending for himself. He said his other siblings who are still stranded in Lagos and do not want him to join them in Lagos. He only contacts them on phone through someone once in a while.
Visibly hungry street kids.
Even though Isaac who is about 16 years still lives on the streets, he told Crest that he has a girlfriend who visits him on the street all the way from Idu Uruan.
Another street child is Miss Precious Okon Bassey, an orphan. She said she would love to serve under someone and possibly learn a skill. According to her, she is from Ikot Ekpe, Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area and she’s interested in going back to school. She does not know any relative except her sister who lives with her father, Precious’ step-father in Lagos.
Precious and another street kid, Master Christopher Gabriel Sam said they were recently taken by someone from Adadia, Uruan to Inua Abasi in Bakassi, Cameroon, where they served in a fishing boat. They escaped from the boat and returned to Uyo because they were severely maltreated.
Hear Christopher Gabriel Sam, “my mother died when I was a baby. I don’t know my mother. My father stays in Benin. I used to stay with my elder sister’s mother in-law. She accused me of being a wizard and maltreated me so much. I ran away from home. I know my village. I am from Ikpe Annang in Essien Udim LGA. That market side. I will return to stay with one of my uncles when I have begged enough money to buy new clothes. I don’t have any clothes now, apart from the one I am wearing now. I sleep at the University of Uyo glass-house.”
Some leaning on the wall for strength.
One of the street kids said he is a primary six pupil of Methodist primary school, Itiam, in Uyo local government area. Elijah Ekom Frank said he was sent away by his teacher because he does not have a pair of uniform and books.
“I don’t go to school again because I walk around for days without eating food. I will be so hungry and weak to trek to school. I am also ashamed that I do not have books to write on and the teachers ordered that I should not come to school again if I don’t have a school uniform.”
Elijah said he hails from Ekpene Ikpan in Nsit Ibom Local Government Area. He said his parents died a long time ago leaving him behind without care. “I have lived alone for a long time. I am fine living alone because everyone I have lived with were in the habit of branding me a wizard, molested me and left me starving.”
The youngest with one other kid.
One of the boys who was taken off the streets still comes around once in a while to show solidarity with his friends.
His name is Goddy (not real name) from Offot Ukwa, Uyo. Goddy is currently a sales boy in a grocery shop. He said he was chased out of the house by his step-mother.
“My madam gives me food and clothes. I come to see my friends here. I also beg anytime I come to see them before I run back home to my madam.”
One of the street kids, Charity Akpan said she was a student of Community Secondary Commercial School, on Itu road. She dropped out in JSS2, and wished to return to school.
The youngest among the street kids is Deborah Michael. She has never gone to school. Deborah had an abrasion on her left leg, she was brushed off the road on to a median by a tricycle while begging for alms. She told these reporters that she does not know her father, but her mother is a retard.
• Intervention by former Vice Chairman of Uyo local government area
Some of the street children who do not pass the night at their ‘glass house’ near the gate of the University of Uyo, return late at night to a room at Itiam, rented for them by Hon. Ukai Udeme, former Vice Chairman of Uyo Local Government Area.
“He (Hon. Ukai Udeme) gave us a house. We thank him. But many days we go hungry because we don’t have what to eat. That is the reason we beg. Some of us want to go to school but we don’t have money for uniform, books and sandals, even food.
“We don’t want a situation where Government will come to arrest us into a vehicle and take us to one house like thieves or prisoners, as they did sometime ago.
More of them posing for a shot.
“This government has not really done anything for us. They should either rent a house for us, provide food, clothes and send us to school. Some of us want to learn skills.”
• They get violent while asking for alms
During the tenure of Dr. Glory Edet, there were concerted efforts by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare to rid the streets of homeless kids. There is no such pronounced effort of late, hence the proliferation of homeless children on the streets of Uyo, Akwa Ibom state capital.
Near their ‘glass house’, a student of the University of Uyo Student, Abasikpongke Umanah of the Department of Home Economics Education, said the presence of the street children was a threat to some students going in and leaving the school.
Abasikpongke said the street children get wild sometimes and attack passers-by who refuses to give them alms and appealed to the state government to get them off the streets.
“It is time the government acted about these children. They are growing every day without proper care and guide. Don’t be surprised one day females amongst them will be impregnated and the cycle will widen. They are already becoming nuisance not just to the University community but to the society,” she said.
Attempts to reach the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare, Dr. Ini Adiakpan, for comments on what the government was doing about the proliferation of homeless children in Uyo, proved abortive. The Commissioner did not pick her phone calls nor responded to SMS sent to her known phone number as at press time.