Saturday, 17 December 2011

The children that could change our world

 Kimberley Hainey was convicted of murdering her son Declan this week.

That’s shocking in itself. But when you hear that this poor baby was regularly left in dirty nappies without food while Hainey was out enjoying herself and that his body was left rotting in his cot for months after his death, this tragic story takes on a whole new dimension. To add insult to murder, his mother then sold his clothes and toys to buy heroin.

Like Declan, Paul Apowida was left to die a long and painful death as a child. Born in Sirigu, Northern Ghana, Paul’s father died before he was born and his mother died shortly after the birth.

This was taken as a sign that he was possessed by evil spirits. A soothsayer decided Paul should be put to death to rid the community of this ‘kinkirgo’ (‘spirit child’), who would otherwise act as a jinx to those around him.

Baby Paul was fed poisonous herbs and would certainly have died if it hadn’t been for the intervention of Catholic nun Jane Naaglosegme. Sister Jane had set up a care home for ‘spirit children’ and patiently nursed him until the effects of the potentially fatal herbs wore off.

Then an amazing charity called AfriKids supported Paul through art college. Not only is he now a great painter, he is also a decorated soldier in The Rifles – the army’s largest infantry regiment.

But despite his military success, Paul hasn’t forgotten his shaky start in life. The first time he returned to his own village, Sirigu, five or six years ago, his townfolk were stunned to see that he was still alive. They never believed he would have survived childhood, let alone life on the frontline.

Reading stories like this makes my heart weep for the children like Declan and the hundreds of ‘spirit children’ who aren’t as fortunate as Paul. These children have been seriously let down; robbed of their futures, deprived of the love and care they deserve. I want to do something about it.

These stories also provoke in me a righteous indignation. How dare people take the lives of these children that God created? Psalm 127:3 says that children “are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward”.

There are many references in the Old Testament to God’s anger when it comes to child sacrifice and infanticide. “And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger (2 Kings17:17-18).

And we should be angry: every child is precious and should be loved, cherished and nurtured. We should be looking out for the children around us, making sure they are being cared for properly, offering help if we see parents struggling, and intervening if we suspect ill-treatment.

As an AfriKids ambassador, Paul is helping to re-educate his countrymen and women about the mistaken ‘spirit child’ belief. He has also raised £40,000 for the charity through the sale of his paintings.

“God is using me to talk to people, to educate my community about what they are doing and to help change their ways,” Paul told Sorted.”You never know what a child will grow up to be.”

Paul’s words are all the more poignant as we prepare to celebrate the birth of a very special baby this Christmas. This one baby changed the fate of the world forever, and we shouldn’t underestimate the influence our own children may have if they are given the chance. 
Read more the full story of Paul Apowida in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

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