Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Buduburam’s Abandoned Refugee Children Home

What do you do when you can’t move forward, and you can’t go back? When you’re stuck in the middle and suffering surrounds you? In the case of Ms. Regina M. Kranger, you take a stand and sacrifice what little you have. With only the desire create change, the love in her heart and the faith that better days are ahead, she attempts to make her world in the Buduburam Refugee Settlement a better place.

Within Budubram, just outside of Accra in Ghana, West Africa lives 35,000 people who have fled a bloody war in nearby Liberia. Buduburam opened in 1990 following the outbreak of war in Liberia and has since transformed from a temporary refugee camp to a more permanent refugee settlement.

With the end of last outbreak of fighting in Liberia, the UNHCR is in now the process of withdrawing all services, giving the residents three options. They can voluntarily repatriate back to Liberia, explore potential resettlement to the other countries through onerous immigration application processes, or integrate into Ghanaian society, despite having no official status in the country. Integrating into Ghana is an option that ultimately lies in the hands of the Ghana refugee board, which has yet to take an official decision on the future of these people.

Resettlement remains the dream for many Liberians in Buduburam, with the US, an historical ally of Liberia, a primary target. Many over the past 17 years have been allowed entrance into the US, but are now facing deportation back to Liberia as their refugee status visas are being revoked.

Going back to Liberia is an option, as the civil war is now over and former dictator Charles Taylor is facing charges in the International Criminal Court. But returning to a country these people were forced to leave, fleeing death and destruction of family, homes and lives, is not an easy choice.

Liberia struggles to rebuild itself both socially and economically, with an estimated unemployment rate of 85%, and the fact that people who were once at war, responsible for killing family and friends, have once again become neighbors.

Within this complex landscape of people struggling to survive and rebuild their lives, both in Liberia and in the Buduburam Refugee Settlement, an extraordinary story is unfolding.

On the outskirts of Buduburam, in a small cinderblock structure, is Regina Kranger’s home. A.R.C.H., or the Abandonded Refugee Childrens Home, is the product of Regina’s sacrifice.

A.R.C.H. is home to 17 children, ranging in age from 4 months to 18 years. All the children are without any family. Some came to Buduburam as refugees, the rest born into the camp, many to teenaged mothers, and then abandoned. Infants abandoned and left in the care of “Mommy”.

“It is very difficult. Sometimes I have to go without food. Sometimes I have to deny myself of everything. That’s the only way I would be able to reach out to them, because if I take care of myself I would not be able to cater to them. So I deprive myself of everything just to reach out to them. Sometimes I don’t even sleep in the night to cater to them, especially for the younger ones.”

Regina began looking after abandoned children three years ago after returning from a failed attempt to move back to Liberia. She describes seeing the effects of war on children as pathetic and decided to help the children that she could upon her return to Buduburam. Beginning in her home, without any assistance from funding agencies, she took in children who have no family to look after them.

“I came first (to Buduburam) in 2000, and I left and went to Sierra Leone and then I went back to Monrovia thinking that the place I was coming back to would be alright to stay, but I found out it was not. So I had to come back though Guinea. I spent almost two weeks on the road and when I came back I started helping children, because of the conditions I saw back there. After the wars most of the children were amputated, and it was too pathetic in the line of children. So, when I came back I started forming this organization, started helping children so at least to give them some wisdom so that tomorrow they will become great children, so that they will not be able to fight war for the second time in our country.”

Three years after those humble beginnings, supported only by her parish, friends and family, Regina had the good fortune of meeting Celina Guich and Penelope Chester, two NGO workers volunteering their time in the settlement.

“Accidentally we met on the camp. When I started explaining to them about what we were going through they were concerned and wanted to see what actually I was saying, if it was true. So they came to the house, came to the house and saw it. They felt pity for us and decided that they would come out to help us.”

Celina and Penelope have formed The Niapele Project,, an NGO created to fund grassroots projects in Buduburam that can create real, sustainable change in the lives of refugee children living in the settlement and beyond.

‘Niapele,' pronounced nee-uh-peh-lay, means 'children' in Kpele, a Liberian dialect. According to the group, a significant proportion of the people living in Buduburam are orphaned children or unaccompanied minors. Niapele has chosen to work in the settlement as the refugees of Buduburam live in below standard conditions and face numerous hardships on a daily basis. They site the lack of economic opportunity, health care, scarce and expensive food and water resources that most affect the children of Buduburam.

With Niapele’s help, the cinderblock structure, donated after the death of the previous resident was renovated to house the children and A.R.C.H. was formalized into an official organization.

This process has not been without its challenges. Monies recently paid to a contractor, a refugee also living in Buduburam, to construct bunk beds for the children was used instead for his mother’s funeral in Liberia. The 17 children sleep both in partially constructed bunk beds and on two mattresses on the floor.

Regina is not alone in her work at A.R.C.H. She has help from two volunteers, Mr. Otto Joseph and Mr. Mark Myers, both refugees living in the settlement. Mark Myers acts as a teacher and administrator for the home, among many other duties. He has a particular interest in helping the children of the home, as he himself is a refugee who lost his family and was forced to grow up in various refugee camps on his own.

“I see the need to help abandoned refugee children, because I myself am also a refugee, and I know what it means to be a refugee and abandoned at the same time. I was nine and a half years old when I left Liberia because of the war. Even at present I don’t know the whereabouts of my parents. I don’t know where are they now, because I was just in school one morning when fighting broke out and I could not come home to see where my parents were. I just came with another family who helped me. Since that time, I’m here.”

Mark Myers explains that these children are particularly vulnerable, but with some assistance have the potential to do great things.

“These children here are the future leaders for tomorrow. So people should see the need to come in and help them so that they can have a bright future. These children have no foundation, no parents and they are just here. We are struggling with them to see how best they can come out. We have no job, no source of income, we are just here with them.”

A.R.C.H. struggles to provide the 17 children with the basic requirements of life. Food, water, medicine, toilet facilities and school fees are but a few of the costs that the home incurs. Niapele’s funding has gone a long way to improve the situation, but they cannot fund the full cost of the project. Perhaps the greatest challenge the home faces, beyond the daily struggle to feed its children, is that A.R.C.H. is forced to turn away other children who dearly need their help.

Donations to A.R.C.H., the Abandoned Refugee Childrens Home in the Buduburam refugee settlement in Ghana, West Africa can be made directly to The Niapele Project, where 100% of the donation goes directly to fund the home.

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