Country Where Parents are Killing Their Own Children

Read also the interview released by The Huffington Post, April 17, 2014

If evaluated by the number of innocent children falsely branded as witches and killed by their superstitious parents and relatives, Nigeria is a country that has sunk deep into a spiritual and moral darkness. Self-styled pastors, prophets and evangelists are perpetuating this darkness through their manipulative deliverance churches and ministries. A number of those religious gurus preach their own brand of “prosperity gospel” that makes their parishioners ever poorer, while filling the pockets and accounts of the pastors with incomes that are obscene in the light of the overwhelming Nigerian poverty.

This is possible because Nigeria is a country, and not the only one in the neighborhood, where Christianity has the blended with native paganism, occultism and demonism of many kinds. In many churches in Nigeria deliverance services do not look in any way different from pagan séances; nor their Christian “spirit filled” worship services look much different from the native experiences of demonic possession.

It helps to understand this if one is to begin to comprehend how it is possible that in a community that prides itself with being made of mostly “born again” Christians, blossoming with many prophets and healers, those same people are ready to reject, torture and mutilate their own children under the superstitious obsession that they are witches. Some sources claim that in the past fifteen years several thousand children have been killed by their parents and relatives in the country where the government is either weak or unwilling to do anything to decisively stop the genocide of children; and where the churches that remain within the spheres of normalcy are turning a blind eye.

Those who are trying to help are not many. In the past ten years there have been only a few international organizations, and a handful of people that have undertaken a noble mission to try to save as many of the unfortunate children as possible. Some have given up in the process due to different reasons. One organization that has been actively saving young lives in Nigeria since 2010 is a Brazilian organization “Way to the Nations”.

In this interview Leonardo Rocha Dos Santos, its founder and director, graphically illustrates the blanket of darkness that veils the country of Nigeria.

Interview with Leonardo Rocha Dos Santos

Tihomir: It seems that the problem where the children are being accused of being witches, and then mistreated, abused, even killed is a major problem in Nigeria. Several years ago it was covered quite extensively by some British media. Somehow lately we do not see much written or televised about it. Does this mean that the problem has gone? Or has it increased?

Leonardo: I have been working in Nigeria for the past four and a half years, and I can tell you for sure that the problem has not gone. I’ve seen too many cases, and some very dramatic ones. We’ve been dealing with new cases every month. We are concentrating only on one state in Nigeria at the moment. There are two other states and we hear awful things from there. There are other countries around that we have not even touched. The UN report says that Congo is one of the worst places, and Cameron as well. Also, some problems are beginning to surge in the countryside of Angola. I don’t think anything has changed really.

Tihomir: There might be people who are hearing about this problem for the first time. What are we talking about? Are we talking just about a tiny group of people, parents, children, or is the problem widespread?

Leonardo: It is really something that exists within the mentality of the Nigerian community. It has spread incredibly during the past fifteen years. But basically what has happened there is a phenomenon that is mixing Christian beliefs with paganism. Most of the cases that we are dealing with started unfortunately in the so-called church, with false pastors, in a situation when a family comes to them, saying: “Look, I have been tithing, I’ve been giving offerings. You said that God would bless me and I would not go through bad times any more, but my husband has just become ill, or lost a job, or someone died in my family.” Then these pastors, who have already been teaching the things that do not have anything to do with the Gospel, like this prosperity theology, have been selling blessings to those people. They say: “Bring your money here and God will protect everything for you, bless you, and you will become rich sometime soon!”

Then suddenly, in this poor region without work opportunities, those families would start questioning: “Why is it so that we have so many health problems? Why are our children dying so young?” Then, the pastor would say to them: “The problem is that one of your children is a witch, and if you want to get rid of the problem, you should bring the child here, and I will cast out the witch spirit from this child, and you will be free, and the things will work out for you.” And then he charges those families.

Many of those families cannot afford to pay, and when they go back home they start guessing which of their children is a witch. Usually they have four, five, sometimes even eight children. What comes to their minds is that particular child who has something different about him or her, one who is stubborn or disobedient. Sometimes it is a child that is clumsy, who breaks things. Sometimes it is a child who is extremely intelligent. Other times it is child that is ill, like a child that we knew well who had epilepsy. His parents thought that the child was possessed by the witch spirit.

These families then start torturing their children. I know that it is difficult to believe that a family will torture their own child. But it is happening, and I saw many cases. They would start beating up their children saying: “Why are you doing that to us?” Sometimes the child is two, three years old. They start torturing the children, trying to extract a confession about who initiated this child in witchcraft. They would get to the point when the child – after being bitten up, saying “Are you a witch? Are you a witch?” – would admit, “Yes, I am a witch.” Then they would cast out the child into a dark place, a forest, on the streets, where we have been rescuing them.

This is a result of syncretism between Christianity and paganism that has been brought inside the church. It is causing chaos and breaking up families.

Tihomir: Let me just go back for a moment. I think several things are happening here. At one level, there is this abuse that comes from the so-called church leaders, pastors, churches, which is actually a shame because it brings the name of Jesus Christ into disrepute. At another level, superstitious parents are willing to mistreat, abuse, and kill their own children under the suspicion that they are witches. I heard that if it does not rain, or if the harvest is not good, or for whatever is going wrong – and basically most of those people are poor, so many of them will have bad times more than enough – when they are trying to find causes for those misfortunes, they are told (by the so-called prophets and pastors) that this is because they have a child at home who is witch. This is what I am getting from what you are saying. And then the innocent children who might be a bit naughty, or who are a bit different, or who might have some health conditions, in every other respect they are as normal children as they could be, are being accused of being witches, and then mistreated.

Leonardo: I will briefly mention some cases now. The case that caused much pain in me was the case of Michael. It happened around October 2012. He was a little boy, eleven years old. He was brought to our base with a big gash on his had, and he almost died. We rescued him, registered the case with the police and with the social affairs as we always do, and then we located his family. He said that it was his father who had beaten him. Then we started investigating the case. Basically it was his uncle who tried to kill him thinking that he was a witch. But his father, who calls himself a prophet of the church, accused him inside the church of being a witch, blaming the boy for the lack of success that he had. He never got a proper job. His wife had left him, leaving the boy behind. So he called himself a prophet in the church, and blamed the boy.

We wanted to keep him in our base because he was very seriously injured. His uncle could have killed the boy. But then, when we registered the case with the police, the police put the pressure on the father saying: “You need to take the child back, otherwise we will arrest you. When the father came and took the child away we said to him: “Are you sure that you can look after this child and protect him from his uncle?” The father said, “Don’t worry, I will look after him.”

The child stayed with the father for a few more days. I said to our team: “I want to go there to see Michael, to see how he is. We went to the village. Michael was there. It was about 3 pm. Michael was wearing shorts. He was barefoot, hungry, with deep eyes, very dirty, and outside the house, because the house was locked. When I talked to him, he said: “My father doesn’t let me go inside the house. He leaves at 7 in the morning and goes somewhere to work. He locks me outside of the house. He comes back late in the night, and he lets me only to sleep inside. He is not feeding me, and I am not going to school. I am here all the time, trying to find something to eat.”

So, Michael was starving. I took him to a restaurant. We ate there. We talked a lot. I said to my team, “We need to get the documents from the government. I don’t want to leave boy there. Something is going to happen to him. Then the team said, “We will go to the Social Welfare again and tell them that the situation has not improved, that we really want to get the documents from the father for us to look after the boy, because too many people in the village are saying that Michael is a witch”.

Then suddenly, few days later the father called the Social Welfare. He said, “Ok. I am going to sign the document tomorrow!” And the Social Welfare called us and said: “Look, the father is coming to sign the guardianship papers for you, so you will be able to look after the boy. Come tomorrow morning and the paper will be signed.”

When we heard this I told a friend: “Go straight to the village right now, find Michael there and ask him if he wanted to walk by himself to our base and sleep in our base, because this would be one night less on the streets, and tomorrow we will have the documents anyway.” When our friend arrived to the village, he couldn’t find Michael at all. He asked in the neighborhood. He asked everywhere. His father wasn’t around. The house was locked. He disappeared. And then we called and told the social welfare person: “ Don’t let the father sign the guardianship documents, because the boy is not here. We need to see the boy first.”

I spent a month literally visiting every village around in the radius of 30 kilometers. Michael disappeared. We offered money to anyone who could bring some word about where this boy was. We spent more than a month trying to find Michael. The chief of the village, when I was talking to him two months later, saw that I was still hoping to find Michael some day, said: “Leo, you need to rest now. Knowing the father as I do, and the uncle as well, I know that they are very violent people. I am quite sure that this boy has been buried somewhere around his house.” This was very hard for me, because I had this boy sitting on my lap, eating with me. I talked to him, he was very bright, very sweet – and then Michael was gone.

When I managed to talk to his father he would just say, “I don’t know! He disappeared!” I talked to his uncle. He would say, “I don’t know where he is at all!” When we realized that the child had disappeared we told that to the police. Nothing was done, no investigation, nothing. He’s gone, just wiped out of the history like that, without any investigation.

Tihomir: I just want to make sure I understood you correctly. You believe that the boy was killed?

Leonardo: Yes. Everybody believes it. The neighbors believe it. The chief of the village believes it. And now unfortunately I believe it.

Tihomir: So the father would rather have his son killed than to surrender him to you so that the boy could be given a proper care? How widespread are the stories like this one? How many children in Nigeria, according to your estimate, are being mistreated at this time, or killed by their parents, relatives or family members under the accusation that they are witches?

Leonardo: At the beginning some organizations were talking about thousands. I have met at least four hundred children in the situation like that. I think we are talking about lots of children. Last month we rescued four children at once. They were not from the same family, but they were to be murdered together, all of them. We received a telephone call in the middle of the night from someone who had heard about us and called us in despair. We went there and rescued four children at once. It is still happening very often in many places.

Tihomir: What is the Nigerian government doing about this? It seems to me, on the basis of my memory going a few years back, that there were some promises given by the government, maybe some steps taken to bring this hunt against the children falsely accused for being witches to an end? Is the government doing anything? Is it able to do anything?

Leonardo: Well, all they did was to pass the law forbidding people to call children witches. The Child Rights Law was approved in 2008, but was not enforced. We do not see any justice done against the parents, or against the pastors who brand children as witches. Last year there was a gruesome case. A child was beheaded by his father who thought that the child was a witch. This child was starving at the street. No one wanted to give him any food. Once he came to the back of his house and asked his brother for a bowl of soup. His father heard his voice, chased him and chopped his head off. And this man worked for the government. He was a public servant.

Also, two or three months ago, a little girl eight years old, who lived with her father who was a policeman, was accused by her father of being a witch. He beat her. Her body was completely hurting. He took all her clothes off and drugged her through the village, embarrassing her naked. In the one hand he was holding AK-47 saying to the people in the village, “Don’t get involved, otherwise I will shoot you”. The father was arrested, and I heard that two days later he was released for the “lack of evidence” against him. Imagine, he was walking in the sight of the whole village, but there was “lack of evidence”? The same was true with the case of the child who was beheaded. The father was arrested, and was released soon for “the lack of evidence”.

Tihomir: This eight-year old girl is now under the supervision of your organization?

Leonardo: Yes. I actually heard about this girl first through a friend who lives in the same village where I live. She showed me the article about the case a day after it was published on the Internet. I immediately got in touch with my team and told them about the girl. I wondered if she had anyone there, any relative to look after her. I told the team, “Let’s find her and see what we can do for her”. Meanwhile this girl was taken to the hospital, because she was hurt very much by her father. She was placed in the bed by the side of one of our children who was treated there as well. So, it was quite easy to find her. Her mother also heard what had happened and came to try to look after her, but her mother could not look after her and the other child that was with her already. Because she could not find any job we decided to employ her as one of the care givers for the children that we have in our center. The mother and her two children are now in our center.

Tihomir: Do you know of any case where someone, a parent, or a family member, or anyone else who has committed atrocity against children, either by killing or mutilating a child because they believed that the child was a witch, was seriously punished and still somewhere in prison in Nigeria? I am asking because you’ve presented the cases of people who were released after a day or two. If this is the prevailing case than those people do not fear because they know that no one is going to do anything against them. Do you know of any case that may serve as a deterrent to those people to think twice before they kill a child?

Leonardo: Unfortunately I don’t know of any. Between several cases that I have seen, when parents or pastors have abused children branding them as witches, I don’t know of any when someone was arrested. I remember there was a case over a year ago when we thought, “Oh, this is the first time that someone was arrested!” Then soon someone said that the murderer did not stay in the prison for more than one day. “I saw him on the streets on Tuesday last week”, he said.

Tihomir: Say something about your organization “Way to the Nations”?

Leonardo: “Way to the Nations” is a new organization. It started in 2010. A movement called “Caminho da Graça”, or “Way of Grace” started in Brazil in 2004 by pastor Caio Fabio. He started this movement by a website. He used online television, radio and his website to teach the gospel in a way we had never learned before. The movement started growing in Brazil and in some other countries too. We wanted to do something for our neighbors, to love our neighbors, the people who are less favored really. And then in 2010 we went to Nigeria for the first time. Since then we also started another project in Senegal. About three years ago we also started a project in Northeast Brazil. We have three main projects, and we are well established in Nigeria, with a staff of eight people.

Tihomir: I’ve been looking at your website. I like your vision and mission statement: “Way to the nations is an international organization dedicated to fighting ignorance, eradicating superstition, and to rescue, support and rehabilitation of children branded by “church” leaders and their parents as witches.” Also, you said a moment ago that you originated as a movement led by a minister who wanted to challenge you to put the gospel into practice. With churches in Nigeria we see an ugly picture of what happens when the so called “prosperity gospel” is pushed to the extreme; when certain individuals or groups of people are getting rich on account of others, and they for whichever foolish reason think that God is blessing them. And yet you have decided to go there and challenge that because the gospel is not teaching us to prosper and abuse others, but rather to be with those who are suffering, and to suffer with them, and help them, and be part of them. I think that what you are doing, however small you may think you are, is one of the powerful ways of putting the Gospel of Christ into practice.

Leonardo: We are trying to change the minds of pastors in Nigeria, and if we can change the minds of pastors I think we can get it done much faster. But, many pastors are not really pastors, they are about money. I have some very close friends, pastors there who are not taking a part in the persecution of children. But majority of pastors that I’ve met unfortunately believe it and practice it. We have a long way to go to change their mentality.

Tihomir: First of all we have to make it ever so clear, and you do it through the stories and experiences you’ve shared, that the teachings of Jesus cannot support anything that is happening there. They might be called Christian pastors, prophets or Christian churches, but they have really nothing to do with the Christianity as it is in Jesus Christ. What is really mind boggling is that, on the one hand, we see those self-appointed ministers and prophets taking advantage of their parishioners, and are abusing the parents. They carry the blame too significantly because they are teaching people, who are mostly illiterate, wrongly. They are really providing a wrong kind of education as far as the spiritual matters are concerned. They are teaching them not what the Scripture teaches, certainly not what the Gospel says. On the other hand, much of Nigeria is considered a Christian country, and there are many churches and many denominations there, and what really bothers me is that so many of them are quiet. One does not meet in Nigeria any significant Christian group raising their voice against the persecution of children falsely labeled as witches. It should really start with them, and yet I do not hear that anyone is really raising their voices there. I mean Christian churches, and the leadership of different Christian churches. They should be saying to their brothers, Christians, “This is evil what you are doing!”

Leonardo: Nigeria is 5o% Muslim and 50% Christian. There is almost a line there. The northern part is Muslim, and the south is Christian. In the south of Nigeria I’ve never seen any church with a proper program that addresses the issue. I know a pastor who says that he does not agree with the abuse of children, and that his church does not practice it, but I do not see them doing anything for outside about that. I asked him: “If you don’t agree about it, why don’t you do something about it?” He said: “We have too many problems in the church, and too many things to do right now. Maybe in the future we will do some programs about that.” The children are dying around their church, but this pastor has something more important to do. I am straight with them because we do not have much time. “Do you believe that children are witches or not?”, I asked him. He said: “Well, if Jesus cast demons into pigs, why could not demons go into children?” And his church is a big church. When he walks behind the pulpit to preach, he enters like as if he were a rock-star. No, I have never seen any church with any program that tackles the issue of children falsely accused to be witches.”

Tihomir: I saw the picture you sent me, and I saw also your website with some very promising looking pictures of children whose lives have been rescued and changed. I saw this picture of a group of children cared by your organization nicely dressed, on their way to school. You obviously want to see children rescued, and their lives changed for better; to see those children growing and becoming good people and good citizens and followers of Jesus, and completely rescued from the situation you found them in originally?


Leonardo: That picture really describes well what we are about. We want to give those children their lives back, to help them, to rescue a bit of their childhood that has been lost, give them love and opportunity. Two of them are doing courses in skill acquisition. One day ago one of them started a welding course. There is a girl who is doing hairdressing. One year ago it was such a blessing to have with us Dr. Tony Edet. He spent three months with us in the orphanage treating the children, and his wife was helping too, looking after the children and teaching them good habits, like brushing the teeth… We are happy and feel privileged to have taken this challenge, given to us by our pastor Caio Fabio. It was a challenge that reached our hearts because of God, and God is doing something good through us in the lives of those little ones, and we are happy for that. Listen to the interview

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About Tihomir Kukolja

Tihomir Kukolja, born in Pozega, Croatia. Studied, lived and worked in Yugoslavia, Croatia, United Kingdom, Australia and the US. Educated in theology, communications, and radio journalism. Worked as a church pastor, media professional, radio producer and presenter, journalist, religious liberty activist, and reconciliation and leadership development activist. Lives in Houston TX, USA. Until recently served as the Executive Director, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum), and Director of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative. Loves photography, blogging and social media.
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6 Responses to Country Where Parents are Killing Their Own Children

  1. Leonardo Santos reporting from Nigeria, Thursday 15/5/2014:

    Today I woke up feeling like if I was Chuck Norris. Called our driver Emman and said I needed to have a serious conversation with him as soon as possible. He arrived half an hour later. I asked him to bring a chair to my bedroom. While I was pealing a pineapple I asked him if he remembered the day about three years ago when he broke through a “police barrier” with us inside the car. He immediately took a defensive position and said, “I remember but I knew they did not have guns”.

    I continued saying “don’t worry, I am not complaining. I actually want to ask you to help me today to do something as crazy as that again”. He started smiling and asked “what is it?” I said, “Go to that village and bring those boys to our centre. I will take a full responsibility for it. Later we can even say I hired another driver on the streets and went there”.

    He said immediately, “I am ok. I will go. The only problem is that the people in the village already know us and they may see us arriving”. So we decided to invite Hope, our boys’ monitor who had not been there yet. He accepted the challenge and joined us. I showed him the photo of the boys and the plan was simple: we would park the car just outside of the village and Hope would go to find them, with my Ipad in his hands to show to the boys that he was my friend. I called Diana and told her what I was about to do and she said “we could get in trouble but if you have already decided what can I say?” And off we went! I know sometimes I may sound irresponsible but I thought “what can they accuse me of? Kidnapping two street children who nobody cares about and giving them bed, food, clothes and school? I think I will survive that!”

    Instead of Boko Haram, I baptised our team of “Hope Leo Emman” and Emman laughing said loudly “The kidnapping squad”. I asked Hope if it was his first kidnapping and taking my question more seriously than I expected he said “yes”, and we all laughed.

    Forty minutes later we were parking there. Emman also left the car and followed Hope from the distance. I stayed in the car. About 10 minutes later I called Emman to find out if they had found the boys. Emman was already very close to the car and came and excited and smiling told me, “They are coming, the boys are following him”.

    When I looked toward Hope I noticed he was not only followed by the boys but also by two other people. I was a bit worried and asked Emman who they were but he didn’t know. Hope and the boys came and jumped in the car. These two guys had followed them to see where Hope, this unknown guy, was taking those boys. When they got beside the car and saw me inside one of them recognized me. The boys jumped inside the car while I said to those guys “Don’t worry! Everybody knows about it”. I don’t know why I said that. Then, I said to Emman “let’s go brother!” and, honestly, he drove back to the centre like if he was already being persecuted.

    Between us and the centre there was a police barrier and I started praying and thinking what would I say if they would stop us. But thanks God they did not. During the trip Elisha asked if we would give them rice to eat and I promised that they would eat more than rice as soon as we would get to the house. They were very excited looking through the windows during the trip. When they saw the wide river that we were crossing Hope said with a huge smile “Wow!” At the same time that Elisha said “JESUS!”.

    We finally reached the centre, introduced the boys to the other children and gave them food and some new clothes. Later we went out and bought some new t-shirts, trousers and sandals for them.

    Two hours later I received a call from the Chief of Police of Eket, “our” city. But it was because since Wednesday we had been trying to meet as he wanted to level about some issues with me. I went there but didn’t say a thing about what we had just done. He was suggesting many things about our project, complaining about the lack of communication of our staff with them, etc which is not exactly true but I received it and said I would work on improving it.

    Then, he went on to praise our project, to say that he really appreciate the fact that I cared enough to leave the comfort of my house to come to help his people and, comparing our project with some others in the state, he said, “you are the best organization here” and his colleague, seating nearby, said “no, they are the second. Mobil (the oil company) is the first!” and everybody in the room laughed.

    I said goodbye and left the office but on my way to the car something in my heart was saying that I should tell him what I had done. So I went back to the office and asked if he could come out for a minute. I didn’t want all his subordinates hearing it and put him in a position to have to show “the importance of the law”. He came outside and I told him everything in details and he heard me with great attention. I told him I was prepared to face the consequences if what I did should really be considered wrong. And with the shining eyes he looked into my eyes and said to me “it takes a strong heart to come from outside and do what you have done. You did the right thing. Don’t worry, if you have problems with the police from the other town let me know and I will help you. If I don’t see you in the next few days have a nice journey back home.” I thanked him and left feeling a great peace!

    The rest of the day was filled with the ordinary tasks that I don’t think I should bore you all with.
    Now please, help us financially if you can! I am sorry to be blunt to say that but we really need help!
    Have a nice weekend to you all!

    Leo Santos, Eket, 16/05/2014


  2. Leonardo Santos reporting from Nigeria, Thursday 15/5/2014:

    Today I woke up with my whole body aching. It was a very hot night and without power again, and I did not have the help of the fan to have a better night. But I woke up with the sound of a heavy rain. I looked through the window and saw a lots of water falling from the roof of our centre.

    I did not think twice. Put my shorts and there I went for my morning shower. The children had already gone to school and only the careers and Imeh who was looking after her baby were around. When they saw me under the rain they seemed surprised and started laughing. Imeh said it was not good for me and I asked why not but she did not have an answer. It was so refreshing and such a nice massage. Oh, how I miss Minas’ waterfalls.

    Our team arrived and we went to Uyo, the capital of the state where I would have a meeting with a journalist who has helped us with a recent case and also I went to deliver to the State Commissioner of Police and also to the Commissioner of Social Welfare a dossier about the “fake-bishop” who has for almost five years used children to make money and with who we have had the unpleasant experience to “associate” with last year until our findings.

    Out trip to Uyo was not very successful. The Commissioner of Social Welfare was not around so we had to leave the document with his PA and I could not brief him personally about the problem. Then we went to see the Commissioner of the Police carrying a recommendation card given by I judge I had met in Lagos but he also was not around. We had to see his Deputy who was not a very nice person to talk to. With a very arrogant attitude he flicked through the pages of the document while I was speaking and at the end he asked me “so what do you want us to do?”

    I shared about serious crimes against innocent lives and handed all the evidences to the vice-head of the police of the state and he asked me what I wanted him to do!? And again flicking fast through the pages of the document he told me “nobody here will have time to read it. Write a one page letter telling us why we should investigate this man, bring it to us and we will do it”.

    Honestly, I had to hold a lot of words inside of me. Diana told him we would write it and bring to him attached to the dossier and he agreed and we left. I know it will be a waste of time but I need to hand it to all of the authorities because when I decide to take some stronger measures they cannot say they were not aware.

    We went to the journalist but she also was not there and we could not wait. I am running out of time and still there are a lot of things I need to do before I fly back home.

    We returned to Eket and I went to do something that since last year I have been trying but never found time to do: to visit an orphanage of babies in the outskirts of the town. In the morning before I left our centre I got some babies clothes, shoes and a filled up a bag with several small teddy bears we still had even after giving two or three to each of our children.

    When we arrived there, I read a sign post that says that the place is maintained by the oil company. We met one of the nurses, very sympathetic girl who showed us around. The place is beautiful and well organized but I was very surprised to learn that they have 40 staff members to run the place that currently has children from 4 months old to 2 and a half years. One of them actually is a special child, probably around 7 years old. I met each one of them. Most are toddlers inside cots looking around. My children Leon and Layla were in my mind every second of that walk. The nurse told me that most of the cases their mothers died while delivering and their fathers couldn’t or didn’t want to look after them.

    Most of the fathers never even come to visit their children. My heart was in pain. And I had felt it years ago visiting two very similar places in Brazil taking some donations but it felt like it was the first time. I got the bags out of the car and asked the nurse if I could give the toys to them and she said it was ok. I went one by one giving a small teddy bear from the bag and not even thinking what I would do if there were not enough of them because I could come back later with more if needed.

    The nurse and Diana were chating and following me all the way to the last cot. When reached the last toy from the bag and gave it to the last boy the nurse asked me “how did you know how many they were?” and I said “I didn’t”. With a smile she asked me to teach her my secret and not very sure what she meant I pointed to the roof and said “only Him knows it”.

    We gave her the other bags with clothes and shoes and left the place.

    In the car I was thinking of those babies, of my children, of Bobo, Victoria and Daniel, of Hope and Elisha… I felt a bit tired and just had energy to say one thing to Diana “I promised Victoria I would come back for her” and Diana gave me some encouragement when she said “inside of me I know they will be with us”.

    When I got back to the centre I had a quick shower and after drinking some water decided to call again the police officer about Hope and Elisha. I spoke to him for about 30 minutes insisting to take the boys to our centre and between laughs he said that I should be more patient. I said to him that it was not a case for laugh; that two kids were still living on the streets because he was not prepared to take a decision. He laughed again and said that it was not the case; that he needed to find the father of the boys before and ask him permission for me to take the boys; that he had been to his house at 6:30 in the morning to try to solve it “for me” but the man really was not there.

    I asked him “what if this man who already knows you are looking for him has fled to another state?” He gave the answer I did not want to hear, “Don’t worry Mr Leo. One day I will find him and if you will have already left the country I will contact your staff”. I hung up the phone and dived into my thoughts till now, 1am. I am so P*****!

    I am beginning to think out of the box to solve this drama and see these children in our centre before I return home. Our plan A has not worked; I have now a plan B and a plan C and tomorrow is the D-Day for me.

    Pray that we will find a way!

    Leo Santos, Thursday, 15/05/14


  3. Leonardo Santos reporting from Nigeria, Wednesday 14/05/2014:

    Some good news that I want to share with you all who support our cause here.

    Yesterday I saw in our office our children school reports from last term which finished in April. It really made my day and made me very proud of what we are doing together here. Seven of our children had incredible results. Three of them were FIRST in their classes of 32 or 34 students and the other four were the THIRD best of their classes.

    For you to understand the dimension of what I am saying, imagine Aniefiok, 7 years old, who is the first of his class. If you go back on my reports from last December you will read that together with our team I personally rescued this boy from the bushes, with wounds on his skin, bare feet, ragged clothes and eating raw cassava that he would steal in people’s garden to survive. In January we placed him in the school and he is now the best of his class.

    What about Favour, 11 years old whose step-mother brought her from another state and at Uyo’s market asked her to wait a bit in a corner. She waited there for months, surviving on the rests left by the traders until someone who was watching her and realized she was at risk to be abused contacted us.

    We rescued her in April last year and I was also here and remember very well the conditions we found her, traumatized and very shy. Today she is a very sweet girl and the third in her class.

    We are doing some serious stuff here guys! If you make part of it please give yourself a tap on your back. If you are not part yet, it is never later to join us! Check their photos and their reports and share this joy with me!

    For a moment in Heaven! But still in Nigeria!
    Abasi Udiong! (“God bless you!” )

    Leo Santos, Wednesday, 14/05/14


    • Leonardo Santos is reporting from Nigeria, Tuesday May 15, 2014:

      We have just returned from Ikot Obio village. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good news about Elisha and Hope. Just the fact that we managed to speak to the local police officer who attended us outside his office, under a mango tree. His office did not really seemed a safe place and the roof apparently was about to collapse. He refused to register the case for us until he could speak to the father of the boys and the chief of the village. We then invited him to come with us but he said he doesn’t work like that. He will go when he is not expected. We had heard this story many times before and many times the police officer did not even attended the case, other times they would take days to follow it up.

      So we headed back to the chief’s house and told them that at least the police was aware of the case and once again we asked them the permission to take the boys. We also had taken our official state and federal documents but nothing seemed to be enough. He sent someone again to try to find the father of the boys who was not found but instead his mother, the grandmother of the boys, came. She arrived very nervous, already aware of what was happening she started to shout that it was not her son’s fault but the other grandmother’s who did “that” to these boys. As I understood “that” meaning bewitched them. We asked her many questions but everything she would say was a way of protecting her son and the way she would refer about the boys showed clearly that she also never really cared about them since. She also made clear that because she lives with her son she could not bring the boys into her house.

      To our surprise while we were still there talking, the chief of the local police arrived riding his motorbike and once again I had a hope that we would take the children with us today. After speaking to the chief and his friends, the police officer said he needed to see the father first. The chief told him the father was not around and nobody knew of his whereabouts. The boys who had seen us arriving in the village were now in front of the table watching those men who never cared about them taking decisions about their lives. Finally, the officer concluded that we still would not be able to take the children away until he could see their father.

      I repeated all over again my speech of yesterday without any success and they blamed Boko Haram and the kidnapping of the over 200 girls for their fear of giving us permission to take the children out of the street. I challenged them again, inclusive the police officer, to shelter the children but all of them remained silent. I criticized them for their decision and said that I could not believe those children would sleep another night on the street. Suddenly I looked at the road and saw two beautiful little girls, both around 5 years old, holding each other’s hand and wearing school uniform returning to the home in the neighborhood and I pointed at them and said “look this is how it should be, someone cares for them. They are coming back from school”.

      Everybody agreed with me nodding and someone said “that’s right!”. And I asked them “so why don’t you let us take these boys? They have suffered too much and wasted more than two years out of school. Each day counts for them. The officer again asked me to be patient and give him till Thursday so he could locate the father and have a serious talk to him. I said to him it was not a matter of patience but that we really did not want the boys sleeping another night on the streets. And I asked him how he would feel if his own children would have to sleep in the street one night and he said to me that it would not happened to them because he cared for them.

      We could do nothing else rather them leave and wait for the officer to contact us once he has spoken to the father. Before we left the village we found a “little” bar that serves food and paid three days of meals and drinks for the boys and I saw them devouring immediately their first meal. We promised them that we will go back and we left. I cannot forget their little faces and I may have to wait two days to have any news about the case.

      The other case that our colleague Jehu attended in Oron about the boy named Kingsley, who does not have parents and also was accused by his grandmother of being a witch and driven out of her house, seems to be going more smoothly. The local Social Welfare assistant promised to help us with the registration of the case in the police tomorrow morning and we may receive a call to go and bring him to our centre. Apparently he has been visiting our office in Oron every day asking Uduak when he can come to our house.

      Praying that the best will come for him, Hope and Elisha!
      Eket, Nigeria, 15/05/14


      • Leo Santos reporting from Nigeria, Wednesday 14/05/14:

        This morning we received a call from Uduak in Oron. She told us that the Social Welfare and Police had both registered the case we requested and she had already spoken to the boy on the street that we would come for him. So we jumped in the car and drove about 45 minutes to our office in Oron, the city most affected by this phenomenon of stigmatization of children.

        When we arrived the boy was already waiting for us in our office. His name is Kingsley. He is about 15, cannot precise his date of birthday but he believes he was born in 1999. Very shy, speaking the minimum all that he had were the clothes he was wearing and an old t-shirt inside of a plastic bag. His both parents passed away. His grandmother blamed him for that saying that he was a witch and drove him out of home over a year ago.

        He has been living with other street children by the river where they all put together pieces of metal they collect on the streets and wait a man who comes time to time from another state to buy it from them. Then they get the money to buy food for themselves. I asked him to show me the place where he was living with these boys and he directed us there.

        When we arrived it was raining and all the boys were inside the room they shared. Without door and windows, I found all of them chatting laying on pieces of ragged cloths and cardboards on the floor. After seeing so much poverty in these past years I thought I was already used to it but I was wrong. I had to hold my tears when I asked myself “what will be of these young lives?” I asked the boys if they lived there and almost all of them together said “yes”. I asked if they had families, homes, etc but no one wanted to answer that question. I asked if anyone there was going to school and they said “no, no one here”.

        A man who was nearby approached us asking what the problem was. We had a chat with him and he explained that that land was rented by his boss who pays the boys for their metal picking work. He was not happy with our presence and we decided to leave. I will find my way to make some noise about it but somehow I know nothing will be done by the government. We drove Kingsley to our centre in Eket. He was happy when he arrived here and saw the other children happily playing outside. Slowly he is blending in.

        We contacted the officer of Ikot Obio to see if he had any news about the father and again begged him to register the case and let us rescue the children but had a negative response in both questions.

        Another night my children will sleep safe, our children in the centre will sleep safe and I will sleep safe but Elisha and Hope are still there sleeping outside in the darkness of that remote village.

        I wanted to be there with them! Better, I want them here with us!

        Wednesday evening, 14/05/14
        Eket, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria


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