BUEA, CAMEROON — (NEWSONE) In preparation for my trip to Cameroon to attend the Africa Travel Association’s 38th Annual World Congress, Public Relations expert and writer Claudine Moore of C. Moore Media reached out to me (pictured back row, right) about bringing toys and clothes to children at a local orphanage in Buea.
And while I initially anticipated that I would hear stories that were desperate and hopeless, I would soon find out that the dominant stories at the orphanage are ones of love, determination, and selflessness.
Mary Ebane (pictured center, in blue) began her orphanage, Grace of God Philanthropic, quite haphazardly with three children in 2000, because she received a message from up above, “It was a vision from God. I got the vision in 2000 and then I started the orphanage in 2004, when I stopped working. I started with nothing.”
By 2006, she would have three more kids at her residence, and so her orphanage officially began, “I started in my home. I had three kids that I took care of at their homes then I had three that I was taking care of in my home. And then I thought that I could bring them together. Then I had six. Then I had 28.”
For the children who find themselves at God Philanthropic, according to Ebane, many of them roamed the streets because they are parentless. Others were dropped off by their parents because they could not afford to take care of them.
“Some of them are orphans, some of them, their parents are not normal [they have mental problems]. Some of them are poor, and the parents have no money to send them to school, so the parents bring them. [But in my care] everybody is going to school. I am the one that sponsors them. They go to government schools.”
The orphanage, which is really a house, has a main sitting room, a kitchen, one bathroom, one master that Mary uses, a kitchen, and two bedrooms (divided by gender) that the 28 children share.
And while the bedrooms are small and everyone involved shares a bathroom, the kids are healthy, bright, and engaged.
Still, taking care of all 28 of these children by herself isn’t easy: God Philanthropic doesn’t have running water and there are no lights in the children’s bedrooms.
Yet, it is very difficult to get Ebane to admit to her challenges. “God got me to do it, and I’m doing it and people are giving me support, so I don’t have any problems, and when God gives you a vision, he backs you. That’s how it is.”
With prodding, though, Mary finally admits, “I don’t have any sponsors. My rent is $100. My food is about $250. I don’t have any water because I wasn’t able to pay the water bill so we fetch water from the stream there.”
And God Philanthropic’s water pipes are broken.
Brenda Bitong, a tourism student and President of TEEMA Organization who recommended God Philanthropic to us, explained Ebane’s situation, “She has a passion to help children; that is why she kept them in her own house. She says she gets help from people now and then, but if you go and see the living conditions of her children, then you know she is having a hard time.”
Still, Ebane’s joy filled the entire room as she spoke fondly about the children as they smiled and watched on. When asked if she remembers all of the kids’ names, Ebane jubilantly responded, “Of course I remember all of their names; they’re my kids!”
Shortly after, Moore and I dragged the belongings we had packed in to her bedroom so she could take stock of what we had. We then handpicked the toys we wanted to distribute and joined the children in the main room.
While some were initially shy, the children sprung into action as only healthy, vibrant youth can do. The older kids enjoyed my explanation of a story book about an African-American slave who found his freedom, and the smallest member of the orphanage, 3-year-old Fabrice (pictured), showed off Moore’s personal gift: funky green sunglasses. But the big hit of the evening was a puzzle I had brought from my son. About 7 to 8 children — mainly boys — took to the puzzle with fervor, trying to figure out their newest conundrum.
By the time we decided to leave, the children had completed the puzzle!
When I asked Ebane about whether she has had any kids grow out of the orphanage, she responded, “One of my kids finished university. She’s married. She’s in Bamenda and they are doing fine. And another, she did hairdressing in a salon. She’s doing fine. They are big. They are both in their 20s; they can take care of themselves.”
After asking whether the two young women ever come to visit, Ebane said, “Yeah, they come, at times they send some things for the small kids.”
And the time I spent with Ebane and the children brought tears to my eyes; for, as much as I tried to anticipate what the orphanage would be like, I wasn’t prepared for the heroism displayed by a Mary Sume Ebane, matron of Grace of God Philanthropic Orphanage.
If you would like to help support Ebane’s efforts at the orphanage, you can do so here.
See pictures from Mary Ebane’s God Philanthropic Orphanage below: