Another day in the life of Don Bosco Homes… Zoon – “Saved by Grace”

Today, for the first time in our lives we received the generous gift of a live chicken! We were in Old Field, New Georgia, Liberia having just returned Zoon – who we initially thought could have been called Shoe, Sue or Zoo – to his family after he’d been missing for three days. He was welcomed home by the whole community with hysterical relief, singing, dancing and hugging…Two happy Aunties took the opportunity to lift Anna off her feet in their embraces!

It was wonderful to see Zoon so surrounded by love and friends and family and was a contrast to the scared and lonely little boy we picked up at the police station on Monday.

On Monday, we had entered our second and definitely not last police station of the week. We passed down the usual dark corridor to the Women and Children’s Protection Section office where seven-year-old Zoon was waiting with a female investigator. At first he was quiet and it was difficult to get his correct story, never mind his name. What we could be sure of was that he got lost on the way from church on Sunday morning. Over the course of the following three days, the story unfolded. Zoon had been at church and at Sunday School for the small children. It was the birthday of one of the other kids, so they all went to sing Happy Birthday to him. Somehow, Zoon and at least one friend got distracted by a group of people playing drums and followed the music. Zoon wandered off and lost his way, but was fortunately found by a woman called Grace, who took him to the police station.

Zoon’s story is typical of the cases that Don Bosco Homes deals with. We took him to the DBH halfway house in Virginia, an hour out of Monrovia, called Savio Village. Savio Village is home not only to boys waiting to be reunited with their families, but also to children accused of crimes, many more who are victims of crimes, and some who have been retrieved from orphan traffickers. Savio Village gives them the chance to be children again; it gives them a routine, food, basic education and the opportunity to play. It has a homely atmosphere and Zoon settled in quickly – once he was taught “A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea” it was all he wanted to do, do, do.

Over a couple of days, the DBH staff were busy tracing the family, particularly following leads relating to their Church. By Wednesday, Zoon was ready to be reunited. He was excited and happy, dancing to our driver Simeon’s cassettes in the backseat of the car – a complete contrast to how he was when we met him.

First contact with the family was to take place at a Total Petrol Garage (globalisation at its finest). The whole family travelled to meet us – Mam, Dad, Aunties, Uncles, and friends from the church. They danced, cheered and whooped, and hugged us all, and to our surprise thanked us for returning their lost boy.

Despite the emotion, the process is formal. The handover isn’t official until the child is back at home and their next of kin and a witness from the community have signed a form. DBH’s new social worker Anna Therese McGivern performed the handover. Afterwards, DBH will do a follow-up to check the child’s progress.

The whole community came out to welcome Zoon home under the mango, coconut and other tropical fruit trees, and during a plethora of speeches from Robert from Don Bosco, a family friend and a woman from the Church, we gradually became aware there was a party waiting to happen. But before we could move onto the next call, the crowd parted and a member of the community came forward to present Sasha with a chicken. The ever-resourceful Robert tied its feet with a long piece of grass and put it in the back of the car. “We will eat it with pepper soup,” said Simeon the driver, as we pulled away, leaving the party to get going.

We’re Here!!!

The first day, not only in Liberia, but in the continent of Africa, we end up in the police station; talk about Brits abroad! As we walked into the dark vestibule signs screamed at us not to loiter, stand or wait.

We followed our companion quickly up the marble staircase, our feet echoing around the hall.

Heading towards a dark room at the end of the long corridor, we passed numerous interview rooms, some of them full, some of them half-full but all were willing to interrupt their detection to give us a cheery wave as we walked past.

We arrived in a room with the sign “WACPS”: which contrary to our momentary fear that the department had something to do with WASPs, turned out to be the Women and Childrens’ Protection Service.

In the room a group of people were gathered casually around a black and white telly watching a Liberian soap- it wasn’t quite what we expected of the police headquarters.

We were there with CAFOD’s partner Don Bosco Homes who are the leading child protection service who work with underprivileged children. They have close links with the police and were there to help out a teenager who had got into some kind of trouble and were going to arrange counselling.

In only two days, the visit to the police station wasn’t the only thing we’ve accomplished: we’ve eaten mountains of rice, shoals of fish and flocks of chickens, we’ve seen lizards for the first time, plodged (or paddled to those from the South) twice in the Atlantic Ocean, watched a football match played at full speed on a pitch that resembled a sandy minefield, and been on the receiving end of several speeches welcoming us to the country and then had a go accepting those welcomes in kind.

Lots of the things we’ve experienced here are things we have at home, but with a Liberian twist – and that’s not just the rice. When we arrived at Mass, the street outside the church was full of cars – all of them 4 by 4s, jeeps, landrovers showing the make-up of the congregation.

In a sermon about Jesus’ baptism, the priest found out that not one person in the church was baptised before 1960. At the end, a parishioner reading the parish notices asked first-time visitors and those returning after a long time away to stand up and be clapped.

The welcome we had in the parish was emblematic of the welcomes we have received everywhere in Monrovia – a mixture of feeling slightly conspicuous but at the same time warmly included.

Our introduction to Africa has been full, vibrant and warm – in every sense, given the 30 degree heat, and we’re all excited to see how the rest of the month unfolds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.