Wednesday 7 November 2018


A Page from Tom Paulson
I was heading home on November 6, 2018, when my sister called me to get her some juice. It was about 8:50pm and I was really tired. I told her I wouldn’t do it but when I got to my junction, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get her the juice. 

It was as I was walking to the provisions store that I saw a woman sitting on the side of the road, with her legs spread out and her hand scratching her head. She was dressed in mis-matched Ankara clothes and she had a look of utter defeat about her. At first glanced, she looked like she had some mental problems; the kind that could not be corrected. And because of how she sat, I didn’t immediately see the children by her side. When I got closer, I saw that she had one child pressed to her body. And behind her on the staircase of the shop closest to the one I was going to, were two other children sleeping on the bare floor. They were covered in dust from rolling on the ground. It was heartbreaking to see that the children couldn’t have been older than 5.

I slowed down to really look at her…and then I walked past. I concluded that she may have lost her mind and I didn’t want to be chased down for not minding my business. So, I went to the shop and got my juice. 

When I got out of the shop, I looked in the direction she sat and saw that she was still there. At this point, I knew that I couldn’t leave her – with those kids sleeping on the road – without doing anything. It was also at that point that I saw that there were two other children with her, bringing the total number to five. Those children, and the utter helplessness of their situation, convinced me to take the risk and walk up to her. 

‘Madam, wetin happen?’ I asked in pidgin English. 

She looked at me and turned away. And looked at me again, as if deciding whether to talk or not. 

‘I need help.’ She responded quietly.

‘Where is your house?’ I asked. 

She pointed in the direction I had come from. I asked again, prodding her to say more. 

‘Phase 1 side.’ 

Those were the only words she said. And hearing that, I made my first mistake. 

‘Ha ahn! Why you allow your children sleep for road like this? E no good now. See as them lie down for bare ground like this. E no good at all. Oya…stand up.’

I remember exactly what I said because I feel so ashamed of it afterwards. 

She looked at me as I spoke to her and I could tell that she was equally ashamed to be in that situation. She started to gather her things as I opened my purse and took out money. 


By this time, a crowd had begun to gather, and I didn’t want to be seen giving her money. So, I quickly thrust the money in her hand and said, ‘Oya…get up and go home.’ And I walked away from the crowd that was sending blessings my way as they gathered around her. 

I saw some other people giving her money and one man even flagged a Keke for her and her children. The woman was on her feet at this point and that was when I saw she was pregnant; probably in her third trimester. 

I realized I had fucked up. 

I mulled over everything that happened and when I finally got home and relayed the story to my sister, she confirmed what I had been feeling.

I should have done more. 

I had prejudged the woman 'crazy' before even reaching her. If I hadn’t, I would have seen that she was just a really frustrated woman who was going through a lot. I wouldn’t have waited to get into the shop before making my mind up to talk to her. And when I finally did, I let the crowd rattle me because I am not comfortable with helping people in the eye of the public. But what is worse is that, everything I had learned in the last two years about solving problems flew out of my head when faced with one. 

Rather than just give her money, I should have asked a few more questions after she said she needed help.

What was wrong?
Why was she on the road?
What kind of help did she need?
Did she have a job? A business? Anything?
What skills did she have?
Were those all her children?
Did she have a home to go to?
Did she have a partner?
What did he do?
Where was he at that moment?
Was she running away from him?

I know that there are even more questions that I could have asked. The answers to these questions would have better informed how I helped her rather than just giving her a little money. Knowing about the underlying issues that drove her to the road at night with five children and one on the way could have presented me the opportunity to offer her a job or begin to look for someone who could. 

But I gave her N500 and left. N500 which was my juice money. N500 which could solve some of her problems for that night and drive her back to the road again the next day. 

I am ashamed of myself and how I reacted. I wish I could go back in time and undo my reaction. I wish I had been more perceptive and patient when dealing with her. I wish I had ignored the crowd and treated her as someone with full agency, rather than some I could tell what to do. I wished I hadn’t been more focused on aesthetics rather than her humanity. Because right there is the crux of the matter! I was more concerned about how the situation looked that I did not focus on the woman’sperson

My biggest desire now is that the universe lets me connect with her again. I hope I have another opportunity to do better and to be better. I know to what extent I can help…and I know how far that will go. And that does not involve treating the symptoms instead of the root causes as I did that night.

But a bigger issue came up as I mulled the situation in my head. 

This woman has five children all under 10 years (from what I could see). And to complicate matters, she had another child on the way. It was obvious that she could not afford to cater to the children she had. I am pretty sure that those children cannot feed properly, talk more of going to school or accessing healthcare. These are the basics that every human being should have, and this family didn’t. 

There are millions of families like hers as can be seen in our exploding population and the consequent downward spiral to extreme poverty. It is then no surprise that Nigeria has become the world poverty capital. While there are many underlying causes of this new status as defined by global development organizations like the World Poverty Clock, a population we cannot cater to is one of the biggest indicators of our problem. 

This is why I am an advocate for family planning. I understand that many people think children are a blessing and that they come from God, but how much of a blessing can they be if we cannot properly take care of them? Why should we continue to punish these blessings by bringing them into a world where they are unable to feed; where they are susceptible to illnesses and diseases because we cannot afford to provide basic healthcare for them; where they cannot get knowledge or contribute to societal growth because they have no formal education; where they are open to abuse because they are sent out to the world to fend for themselves; and where they cannot be the best persons they should be because they have been dealt a poor hand?

I think it is our duty to educate as many people as possible about the need to plan their families so that they can adequately cater to them. Nobody is saying don’t have as many children as you want. Just plan them! Space them enough that you are able to take care of them in stride. It will be unfair to these children if we just keep reproducing without planning for how cater to themselves. And it will be unfair to ourselves to have children we constantly have to worry about because we are failing them. 

Anyway, I am going to continue to harp on planned families and go out of my way to educate people on the idea but for now, we have a population that is poor and struggling and we need to do as much as we can to help out the people in our neighborhoods. 

Do better than me. Be more determined to solve root causes rather than symptoms. Ask questions and be patient enough to wait for the answer. And where possible, give solutions that the people need and not the ones you think they want. 

1 comment:

  1. ☹☹ is sad how often many of us react in the same way to similar situations.