It is about 5 O’clock P.M. on a Saturday evening in Suehn, and Ma Jenneh Famatta Brown is seated, with children at the Ballah K. M. Davies Memorial Orphanage Home, as they lined up before her for bath.
She takes them one at a time; baths each of them with the same tender care; wipes their skins, and sends them in their rooms for creaming. The much older ones find their evening dresses. At about 6:00 P.M. supper is served and thereafter devotion is announced.
“The matron is not in today,” Ma Jenneh told me, as she positioned one of the kids at the orphanage home on her side in a typical African style. “So, I have to bath them myself,” she added.
Ma Jenneh is the Proprietors of the Ballah K. M. Davies Memorial Orphanage Home. Founded on December 30, 1997, there are currently 38 children here-they have been either abandoned by their parents or left as orphans in this village where desperations are seen on the faces on many.
But the children at the home appeared very happy; as they called each other nick names and joke laughingly. They are very receptive to strangers too. They met me for the first time as if they have been seeing me there frequently.
The children are housed in a very huge concrete structure in the middle of a large stretch of cassava farm. The structure is probably the only concrete building in the Suehn village apart from the Suehn Industrial Academy which is miles further down. The structure is divided in to two, by a concrete wall, in the middle separating the girls’ dorm from the boys. Each of the dorms has two massive inside bathrooms that are kept in a very clean condition.
Unlike many orphanages that have external supports, the Ballah Davies Orphanage Home runs without any external support except for one or two individuals who chip in, it is purely sustained by her widow’s might.
She has a farina machine donated by one American millionaire doing the opening of the new home few years ago. She uses the machine to process farina for sales and for consumption from the cassava farm.
Interestingly, all the kids are in the Suehn Elementary School, a World Bank donor funded project. Money for their uniforms and other books comes from the farina sales as well as other small commodities.
Ma Jenneh began an animal husbandry project to add to her source of funding but that did not go well. She plans to restart the project anytime soon. She is hoping that friends who have been of help would come in to enable her restart the animal husbandry project.
But how did it all start?
“It all started when my father was killed on April 14, 1993, during the civil war,” Ma Jenneh said. “When he was killed, I told my mother that there was a need for us to establish an Orphanage Home named in his honour. The reason is that he had been of help to many children, including myself. He took care of lot of children and some were still with him when he was killed,” she went on.
Ma Jenneh said, her mother initially rejected the idea apparently on the basis of funding gap, but she reminded her mother that God is there.
She said the whole idea which came up after the burial of their father, faded away for a while. But she began to have repeated dreams where a man will come asking in her dream: “What are you doing?”
She said at one point she dreamt and saw the man asking her the same question but this time led her to a grave which was purported to be hers but with children surrounding it.
She said when day broke, she ran to the Church where she offered prayers and requested that if it was God’s will she was ready.
“I bought candies and took it to the church prayed over it and shared it among children,” she said.
I started on December 30, 1997, with 25 children. After the 2003 war, I had about 200 children in DTI (Davies Training Institute, an institution established by her late father, it is closer to the newly built Chinese High School along the Suehn Mecca road),” Ma Jenneh explained.
She said after the war, she was able to identify most of the parents and returned most of the children to them. However, she was left with 38 that could not identify their parents. Few of the older ones are in Monrovia attending High Schools but go down every weekend.
How did she put up such huge building without external support?
“My brother Jallah was then working with Living Waters, a Non-Governmental Organization or NGO which was dealing with ex-combatants,” Ma Jenneh explains.
She said it was the brother who introduced the NGO’s officials to her and she in returned informed them that she needed help.
She said they refused to provide food for her centre because where they were initially at DTI, there were no storage for food. And besides there were others living there along with her children.
She said what Living Waters actually did at DTI was to construct a 10-room toilet. Ma Jenneh said it was after this construction that she informed them that it would be better if they had helped her to build a structure on her own property.
She said the NGO consented and did an assessment of her place. She said before then, she had been planting cassava, potato hills and rice to sustain the home. She said at times the rice did not come up well.
She said after the assessment Living Waters, along with one Sis. Sharon and Roland both of whom are still helping came together to fund the construction of the present home.
Ma Jenneh said during the dedication of the Home, Roland came with one American Millionaire by name James, and James donated a farina machine to the Home.
“So, if there is no external support, I have been living on my own.” Ma Jenneh said.
She said people have been visiting her orphanage home though, but they only go there and ask questions after which, they are no longer seen.
Ma Jenneh says amongst her desire now is to have a school at the orphanage home after the completion of the fence project, which she has begun.
But has the government recognize the Home in terms of Accreditation?
Ma Jenneh said officials from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare have carried out some assessment at the home but was yet to get back to her. She said of recent, she participated in a workshop sponsored by the ministry and that she is still awaiting officials from there.
Interestingly, Ma Jenneh said all the local county officials have continued to shun her orphanage home. She said even an invitation to the dedication ceremony was also shunned.
“But God has been good to us,” she said. “I sell to take care of my children. And I will continue to help the needy,” she added.
I have planned to revisit the orphanage home, but this time with a football for my new found friends.