Mohamed Emmanuel Nabieu was 8 years old when his father was shot during a rebel attack and he was separated from his mother during the Sierra Leone civil war.
After living on the streets for four months, workers from the United Methodist Child Rescue Center found him and offered help. Now, as program director of the center, he works to pay back the help he received to other orphaned and abandoned children.
“My father was shot right in front of me. In the confusion of fleeing from my village... I lost contact with my mother. My mum went away in a different direction with a different group of people while I headed for Bo City,” Nabieu recalls of the turbulent times during the 1991-2002 war.
Center now cares for hundreds of children
Now, there are about 40 children in the residential program at the Child Rescue Center, which provides 100 percent support for them as well as supervision by “residential aunties.”
The Child Support Program provides educational, health and spiritual support to children who live with parents or relatives who cannot take care of all their needs. There were 350 children in that program as of September 2016.
Finally, the center’s Foster Care Program provides support for vulnerable children who stay with volunteer families because they cannot stay with their own families due to uncomfortable circumstances such as abuse or child trafficking. To date, there are 60 children in the Foster Care Program staying with foster parents nationwide.
The center is supported by 16 partner churches, mostly from Virginia and two others from Massachusetts and Texas. It helps children who are survivors of child labor, trafficking, abuse, neglect or extreme vulnerability. The partner churches have formed an alliance with Helping Children Worldwide in the U.S. That alliance funds three programs: Connections of Hope in Virginia and both Mercy Hospital and Child Rescue Center in Sierra Leone.
Other support comes from the Sponsor-A-Child Program, which searches for sponsors for children in any of the center’s programs. There are now about 400 sponsors, who communicate with the child they sponsor through letters, photos and videos.
The Post-Secondary Support Program provides complete support for students in tertiary institutions. This program has over the years graduated engineers, medical doctors, IT specialists and more. There are presently 10 students in this program and 23 more are set to enroll.
When the rescue center workers asked why he was sleeping on the streets, he was frightened.
“I attempted to explain but I was very nervous because I saw strange people in the company of white people. And I had never seen white people before,” he said. Eventually, the workers convinced him to follow them to the center at Mahei Boima Road.
More than a decade after the war, five staff members at the center are all alumni of the program.
Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu recalls that the center started a program that gave street children food at a particular time and place in Bo. After eating, the children would return to the places they slept — often uninhabited buildings.
“The dream was to provide hope for many children that were abandoned and languishing on the streets of Sierra Leone during the war. Most were either orphaned or displaced by the civil conflict,” the bishop recalled.
The program eventually provided food, clothing, shelter and educational opportunities for marginalized children. Later, children received housing, clothing, food and medical care and were enrolled in schools in Bo.
Nabieu, who was among the first 40 children to live at the center, said his first days there were difficult.
“I was weeping every day because I found myself in a completely new environment with strange people around me. I found it difficult to adjust, constantly asking myself ‘Is this going to be my permanent home?’” Nabieu recalled.
The difference in his life at the center and his life on the street was huge.
“Everything was organized. We had prayers, breakfast, lunch and dinner times. For the first time I started having three meals a day. In my previous life I would eat just once a day on my best days. But at the CRC (Child Rescue Center) I was sure of three meals a day. There was good water facility, electricity, love and more caring environment,” he said.
Since he came from a Muslim background, life and worship as a Christian was new.
“I started adapting to become a Christian. I saw the life changes: the honesty, love and dedication,” Nabieu said.
He still missed his home and family, but he was enrolled in school.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Donations can be made to the Child Rescue Center through the Advance, No. 14377A.
Learn more about the Sponsor-A-Child Program.
Johannes Baun, the system administrator at the center, was brought there by his mother when he was 6. His father had disappeared and his mother couldn’t care for him, so she told him she was taking him to get his favorite food, then left quietly while he was occupied.
“It feels good to come and work at the CRC. We see it as payback time. I cannot imagine what my life would have been without the CRC,” Baun said.
Joseph Junisa, the Sponsor-A-Child coordinator, was one of six children being cared for by his single mother, who sold palm wine to provide for them.
One day he spilt some of the wine and she sent him out to the streets, telling him to get enough money to pay for the lost wine. He met a Child Center worker who gave him a note for his mother that she had to find someone to read.
The note gave an address to register him at the center.
“I believe it was God’s way of leading me to the privilege that existed for me at the CRC,” Junisa said.
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]