Former Street Resident, Isaac Andoh, Shares His Story About Living On The Streets With Polio.
Isaac was born in Takoradi, and contracted polio as an infant, a debilitating illness which develops over time. Because of this, Isaac’s mother found him difficult to care for, as she could see he needed extra care due to some physical impairments. During this time Isaac’s parents split and his father remarried. She gave Isaac to his father to be cared for, but his father also found him difficult to care for so he relied on his new wife to care for him. As Issac grew, he was unable to walk and his father gave him back to his mother, and her new husband. As Isaac’s symptoms grew worse, Isaac’s father became angry with his mother, believing she was not looking after him well and was the cause of his problems. He needed crutches to walk and the limbs on his right side in particular did not function. They took him to hospital where he was assessed and told nothing could be done for him.
He began to attend school but his home life was very turbulent. His mother and step father would fight every day. One morning he woke to find his father beating and strangling his mother, holding her in the air with his hands clenched around her neck. However, life continued and his mother gave birth to two more children, one boy and one girl. She had an older child from a previous relationship, so now she had four children in total. Eventually Isaac’s mother left the man she was living with and took all of the children to another town called Funko. She began baking and selling bread and it was going well. But she began losing money and she blamed her financial downfall on Isaac, believing he was a witch or a wizard due to his illness. She took him to a spiritual church and left him there to be disciplined. He lived at the spiritual home where the pastor threatened to cut him with a blade if he did not confess to being a witch or a wizard. Isaac was chained to a mentally ill man and left outside the church compound. During the night he managed to break the chains and take shelter inside the church compound.
It was painful to go through that ordeal at the church. What made it worse was that it was coming from my own mother. I would have even preferred for someone else to do that to me so that my mother would, instead, be the one fighting for me. I felt was she did was unnecessary.
Isaac’s mother attended services at the church and one evening she fell asleep during the service, so Isaac left the service and went outside for fresh air. He did not return until after the service had finished. His mother was very angry with him and beat him very badly that night. She decided to take him to another church and she told them to do with him whatever they liked, as she believed he was a wizard. So they lit a fire and made him sit under a cloth with the fire and forced him to inhale the smoke. This was torturous for Isaac as he struggled to breathe and the smoke caused pain in his chest.
The pastor then made a concoction of leaves and water and dipped a broom in it. He then used the broom to beat Isaac, believing this would rid him of being a wizard. However, when they could see the physical symptoms of the polio continued to affect Isaac they realised they were not getting any results from performing spiritual rituals on him. Isaac could not take any more of these rituals, so he ran away from the church and began begging on the streets, sleeping in the church only at night. His mother came back and found him one night, blaming him again for her financial downfall, and she threatened to poison him. At this point Isaac ran away and did not return. He began sleeping in the bus station in Takoradi. He was about 13 years old by this time.
After some time living on the streets in Takoradi he made his way to the next town, Sekondi, and began sleeping in the taxi station. A woman came past him one day and gave him 1 cedi, and asked him why he was there. He told her his whole life story. The woman went home and later she came back and found him, telling him that she would take him home with her. This lady was called Sister Atta, and she welcomed him into her home, treating him like one of her own children. She cared for him, guided him, and disciplined him, just as she did with her own family. She fed him and gave him somewhere to sleep. He continued to go out onto the streets each day to beg, and he would give her the money each day for his keep.
She would use the money to buy his food. After some time she enrolled him into a local school, but the other children made fun of him, because they had seen him begging. So Sister Atta took him to another school, but the same thing happened again. Here not only the children made fun of him, but the teacher also joined them in tormenting him. At this point Isaac became very angry with his teacher for laughing at him. He shouted at them all and left the school. Sister Atta later went to plead with the teacher on Isaac’s behalf to let him come back to the class again, and he was accepted back. However, he could not feel comfortable around the school children and the teacher and after a few days he left and did not return.
I felt bad when the students laughed at me in school. I was also angry because even the teacher was laughing at me that ‘I’m sitting by the roadside begging’. I used to ignore them but it got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore so I got angry and spoke my mind to them.
He told Sister Atta that he wanted to leave the area and go to Accra. Isaac had 10 cedis and he knew a boy who also wanted to go to Accra and had 5 cedis. Together they could afford one seat on a bus to Accra, so they shared the seat, the boy sitting on Isaac’s lap. When they arrived at Kaneshie bus station, Isaac stated sleeping rough around the station and on the streets and began begging again. He stayed there for a year, sometimes finding people who would share a sleeping mat with him. He moved to live close to the main Circle bus station, but was not making much money, until someone advised him to move to Opeibea where he would make more.
After a few months living in Opeibea he met a man called TK who was running a food programme. He didn’t get close to TK initially, keeping his distance, but enjoying the food that the programme offered. He became a regular at the food programme and after some time he found the courage to speak to TK and asked him if he would be his friend. TK said, ‘Yes of course! I would love to be your friend.’ From there onwards he began to spend more and more time with TK and he became more involved with the Future of Africa programmes each week.
TK and his wife Nikki invited Isaac to come and live with him, away from the streets. At that time TK and Nikki had two boys living with them already, so Isaac joined them. He was very happy living at TK and Nikki's house and it also gave him opportunities to talk more with TK. He told him he wanted to be a musician and TK told him that was great, but he needed to learn some other educational skills first. Nikki sat with him and encouraged him to go to school for training. So he decided to accept the offer they gave him to enrol into Hope Institute.
Isaac enrolled into Hope Institute to train in the skill of Leatherwork Tailoring. This was a 3 year course and he did very well.
However, the duration of this time had many ups and downs because the school’s policy was that Isaac must spend his vacations with his biological mother, as they wanted to encourage reunited families. Vacations spent with his mother were extremely turbulent and difficult for Isaac, where he was once again not treated well whilst staying with her.
FOA continued to support him wherever they could, covering his transport costs and things like this. Isaac’s mother began to refer to TK as Isaac’s brother, and would often refer problems to TK to deal with. When Isaac finished his schooling the school gave him a sewing machine and made an arrangement with Isaac’s mother for him to return to be with his mother and start doing business there.
FOA gave Isaac's mother 300 cedis to support this plan. Isaac’s mother reported spending 100 cedis on transport and 200 cedis to secure a container within which to start a shop for Isaac to work in. However, this turned out to be untrue, and the truth was that Isaac’s mother spent the money she had received on other things.
FOA therefore arranged for Isaac to move to the Future of Africa Community Centre, Norwiwo, to live and continue his learning and trade. Isaac now calls Norviwo his home. He continues to develop his education and his skills, and has found happiness in the community and family around him.
I was very happy when I graduated because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to go through the training process.
Now, I see myself as a person. That I also matter.