Friday, October 10, 2014

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three," But, no,

From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.

"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."

"And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with hardship
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Masters' hand.

Great poetry has a way of touching our souls in a way that nothing else can and this is one such example.  In this inspirational and captivating poem, ‘The Touch of the Master’s Hand’, also known as ‘The Old Violin’, Myra Brooks Welch eloquently affirms that all persons are of value and have great potential, even those regarded by society as worthless.

A girl child’s eyes sparkle because she imagines a world replete with things that astonish her and a future that is good; but the harsh realities of life often rob her of everything, including her imagination. Like the old violin in this beautiful poem, many girl children are battered, scarred and rejected.

In our work with needy and vulnerable children, we witness how, despite the strong willingness of girls to learn, their education is often interrupted by a sum of poverty-driven factors as well as traditional or religious beliefs.  These are often the children who have to beg on the street or work to provide for their parents and younger siblings or stay home to take care of children, the sick and the elderly.

The girl child is often denied her human rights and sometimes her basic needs. She is at increased risk of exploitation and other harmful practices like female genital mutilation and cutting that negatively affect her survival, development and ability to achieve her full potential.

The future also looks bleak for girls victimised by early marriage, being more vulnerable to maternal deaths due to under-developed bodies that are not fully developed to go through the process of pregnancy and childbirth without adverse impacts.

Violence against girls is prevalent in times of social and political upheaval, crisis and conflict. The abduction of over 250 girls from the Government Secondary School in Borno State in the Northeast region of Nigeria by Islamic insurgents and the subsequent use of girls as soldiers and suicide bombers is one such example.

It goes without saying that since girls are particularly vulnerable, they require additional protection. The girl child is one of the 12 critical areas in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, which recommends elimination of all forms of discrimination and abuse of girls and protection of their rights.

The advocacy for the girl child is not only about the girl child but also about society as a whole. Like the story of the violin, everyone benefits; the person who is touched, the person who touches, and all those who listen to the unforgettable melody. The empowerment of the girl child through education and skills development is a key to improving the situation of her family and her community. An educated mother has the potential of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and ignorance.  

The fact that many girls drop out of school mainly because of poverty requires that more investment be made in providing the right conditions including free education and support to poor families. In countries where the free education system is well established, the cost burden of uniforms or basic school supplies is passed on to parents; and this has had an adverse impact on enrolment and retention. Every government has the responsibility to provide free, quality basic education so that no child will be denied the opportunity to complete a good quality education because it is unaffordable.

By using more government funds for educational programmes and by effectively utilising international aid, developing countries can ensure that education is free of tuition and other fees, and that everything possible be done to reduce or eliminate costs such as those for learning materials, uniforms and school meals.

Civic leaders, traditional rulers, religious figures, the police, government administrators and other adults have an important role to play in promoting and facilitating the empowerment of the girl child but they can also constitute a problem if their comportment towards girls is inappropriate in perpetuating discrimination, harassment, sexual exploitation and stigmatization.

Making empowerment a reality for every girl requires not only our resources and policies, but also our voices and actions. But more than that, love, respect and support for girls must be a reality in all our homes, schools and communities and not just empty words.

Bunmi Awoyinfa

House of Mercy Children’s Home, Lagos (HOM) is actively involved in various charitable activities for street children, child beggars, child scavengers, children in crisis and other needy and vulnerable children. We strive to promote equal educational and skills development opportunities for girls.  

Founded in October 2006, HOM started off by assisting homeless boys and girls living under the Adeniji Adele bridge in Lagos.  The children were provided with free meals, clothing, emergency medical care and drug counselling.

HOM began to cater for child scavengers at the Igando garbage dumpsite in Lagos. The children were provided with free meals and first aid services.
HOM also began to cater for child beggars at the beggars’ camp in the Ebute-Metta area in Lagos. A regular mobile school was established for the children. They were also provided with free meals, clothes and first aid services.

HOM commenced a project to “Bring Education to the Doorsteps” of unschooled child beggars by conducting literacy classes for 200 child beggars, 55 percent of whom were girls, at the beggars’ camp. The non-formal education programme made education available and accessible to children withheld from school because they had to beg to provide income for their disabled or impoverished parents. The children were divided into 3 classes: kindergarten, primary, and school drop outs.

HOM initiated a school sponsorship programme for disadvantaged children, in particular girls, whose families could not afford to send them to school. A considerable number of child beggars attending the literacy classes were channelled into the mainstream educational system through the school sponsorship programme.

In March 2011, HOM set up a home for homeless street boys in order to rescue and rehabilitate street children living under bridges, at motor parks and on the beaches in Lagos.

In January 2013, HOM established a home for girls at-risk. 

HOM extended the reach of its services to child beggars in Ibadan, Oyo State by providing free nutritious meals, clothing, shoes, diapers and educational assistance. 

HOM distributed insecticide-treated mosquito nets to needy and vulnerable children along with the appropriate training and use of the nets.

Launch of Children’s Library on International Literacy Day.

Outreach programme for children at Radev Early Education Centre, Leper Colony, Iberekodo, Abeokuta in Ogun State.

Launch of our « Africa, Wake Up! » campaign against poverty and injustice. Our video titled « Africa, Wake Up! » is available in our VideoGallery and also on YouTube.

Launch of our « Africa, Wake Up! » campaign against poverty and injustice in Portuguese.

Launch of our "Africans United for Peace" campaign in response to the overwhelming Refugee/IDP crisis in Africa.

2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 & 2019
HOM contributed to ongoing efforts to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to children and families in crisis in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, Ebola affected nations, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Northeast region of Nigeria in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.