Try and erase everything you know about how your family is composed
Remove nuclear families. Remove calling step children “step”. Remove adopted children as “adopted”. Remove the notion that only your blood sisters and bothers are called your bother and sister. The same applies for aunties and uncles.
Now imagine this: In one family there was once two parents. One died leaving a child, the child with one parent may go on to live with an aunt or uncle as the surviving parent is incapable of providing for that child. Or the child may remain with the birth parent until they re-marry. It is part of the culture that ladies with children re-marry, not for love but for security. With no income who is paying the rent? Who is giving the lady fish money to feed them each day? So the lady remarries an elderly man. He in turn wants something out of this ( aside from the obvious). he wants someone to cook to clean, to wash his clothes. So they marry and eventually he gets her pregnant. She is torn, before she was poor but had her freedom. Now she has 2 kids and no place to go, she is stuck. So she sends her eldest child to live with family in Senegal or in a remote village because the new husband is wicked to his “step” child”.
At least 1/3 of our parents can relate to this scenario
Now lets take a look at what happens when both parents die. Not at once, but maybe months or even years apart. Where do their kids go now? No elderly grandparents or if there are they are too poor and have no room to take on extra responsibilities . Brothers may have gone overseas to try and find a better life. Sisters may have 5 or 6 kids of their own already with no job and no means to look after her own let alone another mouth to feed. So someone steps in, maybe a distant relation, maybe a good friend who has kids of her own already. The friend becomes the mother. And is called mother. The siblings are now all known as brothers and sisters. Not “step” or half or anything else, just family pure and simple. They grow up together and as adults call all non-blood relatives who were part of the same family, brothers and sisters. If you are raised together you are family. No distinction.
Here’s a tickler: A mother abandons all 3 of her kids to their maternal grandma when the youngest girl is just 5
The mother pursues her own agenda getting money from the oldest trade in the world, the kids stay with grandma for years. The mother has a new child , that’s 4 with 4 fathers so far. Would you deny these kids because their mother wasn’t a paragon of virtue and she turned to what she knew would give her money? The grandma struggles on until one day the prodigal mother returns, hearing tales of sponsorship and cash signs before her eyes. She takes back the child, an inbuilt babysitter for her latest offspring. She tries to claim her place in your life. What do you do?
So what happens when there is no one else but an elderly grandparent? They can not and will not abandon their last blood relative. They adopt the child and become the entire world for that kid. 70 years, 80 years it matters not. No one is left behind, even if there is no room they share a bed until the child is too big so sleeps on the floor. They know their days are coming to an end. What then of their precious grandchild?
And how about the orphan
Lost both parents before she was 4 years old. Sent to live with some distant cousins in a different country where the dialect is strange and all she had known is gone. The relatives welcome her in and she is now part of their family, despite having nothing but a mud hut to live in. Her world turned tospy turvey before she reaches 5.
Then let’s think about how and where these people, what would be described in the UK as “underclass” live. In mud huts, rented rooms in shared compounds. Chores shared to lessen the workload of drawing water from the well or struggling in the heat and humidity to market every day with no means of transport. The image of Africans carrying water on their head depicts communal life. Have you ever tried to carry 20 litres of water? Tried putting it on your head? Tried cooking with no electric or gas?
Then the landlord of your hut or room decides they need more rent
and have a customer waiting, so out you go, whether you have somewhere else or not, that means the kids too. No tenants laws to protect you, no social security payment to help you, no removal vans. You sleep on someone’s floor until you manage to find a room cheap enough. That may be in the same area or may be villages and miles away. Our families live like this. Security is an alien concept. People have to move continually. On brighter days it may be because a parent, usually the man has found work many miles away, they are torn. They have a life, a community, friends and maybe family and all the trappings like a friendly Mosque, school for their kids but you go where the work is . I have lost count of the number of our kids who have moved over 6 years.
We take on a family for sponsorship, they may be lucky and have a good sponsor who is interested and sends boxes of delights. And any one or all of these situations can happen at any time, so they have to move, their timing seems to always be when we are in the UK in the rainy season. Maybe because their leaky roof and ignorant landlord becomes too much to bear. We return and wonder where is she? With most having no mobiles it can take months to track a family. And what about their schooling? They have been to the school and got a refund to enable them to enrol their kids in a new school in their new village. And so it continues.
And then there’s sickness
Mum re-marries and all is well. The new Dad gets sick. What do they do? What would you do? With no means to pay hospital bills, no means to fend for yourself? Mouths to feed, backs to clothe, do you sit by the road selling home grown chilli peppers and groundnut hoping its enough to buy fish for dinner? What if you have no garden, the shared compound you live in is all concrete and sand? You’ve never been to school, you can not read or write, how do you help yourself to help your kids? You ask for a sponsor and pray they can break the poverty cycle.
A boy lives with his dad, the mum long forgotten. The dad goes the “back way” to Europe and is never heard from again, he is not the only one. Do you say no to them when they come to you to ask for help with a sponsor, do you say no to them because their circumstances are unstable? Or do you welcome them with open arms because they are in desperate need of some love and stability?
How about the kids with special needs
Whether through contracting meningitis as a baby or genetic learning difficulties. Do you tell them they’re not worthy of going to school and some help because they will not be a bank manager or a lawyer? Their lives with their parents who love them dearly consists of playing in the dirt and doing chores. Is that all they are worth? Or do you think they’re valuable and worth so much more?
Then there’s the siblings, blood or otherwise according to your values. Do you deny the siblings of a sponsored child their opportunity, do you say no sorry, we are full and we can’t help you, your family doesn’t fit the model family our sponsors expect? Or do you see a shining star of mathematician sat in front of you? Or a capacity to learn bursting at the seams, saying “me school me school”. Do you turn a blind eye because your job is already full and and your struggling to manage it all in the way people expect? Or do you say “ I can help and I will”?
Then there’s the language barrier. All of these scenarios come direct from our kids. Many times the request for sponsorship comes from someone who doesn’t speak fluent Wolof never mind English. So Sol muddles through in Mandinka or Fula, his 3rd and 4th languages.