|Stephen and Christabel Abankwa, Accra, Ghana|
words by F LoBuono
His name is Stephen. Stephen Abankwa. He lives in Accra, Ghana, a city of about 2 million located on the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa. He recently turned 20 years old. I met Stephen on-line about 2 years ago when he friended me on Facebook. He noticed that I worked as a professional journalist, and since at that time he was studying that field at the local university, he struck up a correspondence to "pick my brain", if you will. Stephen would ask me questions about my work and also about my life. He, like many young people from poorer countries, was intrigued as to my lifestyle. Of course, I was just as curious about his. And this is what I have learned.
Stephen's parents, along with his older sister and her child, were killed in an automobile accident a short time before I met him. That left him, an older brother, and a younger sister as orphans. I found out from Stephen that his brother is an alcoholic and, therefore, can offer no help to him and his sister, Christabel. His grandparents are old, sick, and poor so they can't offer much either. This has left Stephen to fend for himself while, at the same time, caring for his little sister. They live in grinding poverty with little prospect for the future because of it. His poverty, and the causes for it, are like that of poor people around the world. He wants to do better. He can do better. He needs to do better. But HOW can he do better? It's a vicious cycle. He has had to quit school because he needs to work to be able to support himself and his sister. But whatever little work he can find is limited by the impoverished nature of the area in which he lives and by the fact that he has not completed his education. He walks the filthy, disease infested dirt roads of his shanty town searching for any work that will pay him virtually anything. He will hand wash peoples' laundry. He will run errands. He will chop fire wood. He will clean your house. He will chauffeur you around. He is honest, industrious, and enthusiastic. All he wants is a chance to have a life; to support himself and his little sister. But he's stuck in this damned Catch-22: he can't have a decent future for himself and his sister if doesn't get the education necessary to compete in today's high-tech world. However, if he goes to school that leaves him no time to work. And, no work means no food. And no food means starvation. Again, it is a vicious cycle. No one should have this type of grinding responsibility at twenty!!
I know that there are many scams that emanate from Africa. You've seen them: A long lost African prince's inheritance is just waiting to be claimed if you could just forward him many thousands of dollars to settle the legal fees, the reward is yours. Yeah, right! But I believe that Stephen's plight is legitimate. He has always been consistent in his simple desire to make a good life for himself and Christabel. He is proud but always humble. When there is no alternative, when there is simply no work for him to find and starvation looms, he asks. He never asks for much and is always apologetic in doing so. But when one is hungry, and your sister is hungry, pride goes out the window. I do what I can to help. I sent him an inexpensive laptop computer to help him and his sister with their school work. He has malaria and I send him money for medicine when the disease manifests itself and his suffers from fevers and headaches. And, most of all, I send him money when he is hungry. NO ONE need go hungry in this world!!
Stephen often asks me if there is a way to teach him to fish instead of just sending him fish. He is that type of young man. He is no beggar. He is a fine young man who had circumstance deal him a crappy hand. And he doesn't deserve it. No one really does. He just wants a chance. I'd like to help give him that chance - one on one, person to person. Although important and useful, we don't need organizations to coordinate our giving. When we find someone who needs our help and is worthy of it, we should not hesitate. I have not.
Recently, I asked Stephen to send me more photos of his life. As most of you know, I am pretty shameless about posting photos from mine. Stephen always remarks with wonder at how I (we) live. To know him more completely, I requested that he share his. He sent a few dozen from his "hood" (his word). Needless to say, I was shocked by the grinding poverty that I witnessed. Untreated sewage and filth was evident in nearly every photo. What should have been a beautiful beach and coastline was shewn with garbage. To confirm that these photos were indeed real, I did a little research and found out that Accra has one of the largest landfills of industrial and technology waste in the world. Poor people, including children and young men like Stephen, eek out a meager living, often at great physical cost, on that toxic pile of rubble.
I often have fun portraying my alter ego, The Fulk, on Facebook. It's a melding of me with the so-called superhero, The Incredible Hulk. I use him to express what I like to call "Righteous Rage". In other words, some things are just worth getting damned pissed off about. This is one of them. There is no need for ANYONE TO GO HUNGRY. There is no need for ANYONE TO LIVE IN FILTH. And don't give me this crap that god helps those who help themselves. That may be true in some circumstances but not every - like the case of Stephen Abankwa. He did not ask to be an orphan. He did not ask to have to care for himself and his sister alone. He did not ask to have to quit school to provide for himself and his sister. He did not ask to be born in a country that offers little chance and, therefore, little hope for a better future. How can that old adage apply to someone like him? It simply does not. Therefore, The Fulk must rage!!
My point is that giving and caring don't have to be institutionalized. We don't need organizations to coordinate our giving. One just need the will to do so. Yes, having the means to do so is important but not exclusive. I don't send Stephen massive amounts of money. In fact, my giving is quite modest. But it IS something and it DOES help. And anything that one can do to keep another human being from going hungry is a worthy contribution. I know that I have done that for Stephen and Cristobel. That makes me feel good. In fact, it makes me feel like a million bucks. Now, that's what I call an investment!
In conclusion, to those of you whom use Social Media, I would encourage you to find and friend Stephen Abankwa. Be his friend in the truest sense of the word. See how we are all connected - white, black, African, American. We are all human beings and when we have the opportunity to help one another, no matter where or when, and do so, we will all be the better off for it. In the meantime, if you can find it within your hearts, consider a worthy cause and help Stephen Abankwa. He's worth it.