The young girls at Notre Dame Girls needed an advocate—someone who could protect them and help them reach their potential. I recall a woman reporting to me that her 17 year-old-daughter was going out with a man in his early thirties. In her eyes, her daughter was being promiscuous and needed to stop her unholy lifestyle.
As naïve and inexperienced as I was, I didn’t first listen to the daughter’s side of the story. I told her to end the relationship immediately. Midway through our meeting, I asked her if she had anything to say. This was when I received a bombshell. The young girl replied calmly and respectfully, “Father, did you ask my mum who pays my boarding fees?” With that simple question, I quickly understood what she was saying.
She continued, “My parents separated, and my dad went in for another woman, failing to care for us. My mother had to care for all of us. She was uneducated and unemployed. My two older sisters dropped out of school before they could complete junior high school to help her support our family.
As I talk with you now, my oldest sister has two children and is pregnant with a third by a young man who cannot fend for himself. My second sister has a child and is not married because the young man refused to accept responsibility for the pregnancy. Father, I don’t want to be like them. I want to study to become somebody someday.” Through her tears she told me, “It is this relationship that pays my fees and keeps me in school.” Those are words I will never forget in my life. Was I surprised? No, many girls have had to fend for themselves by doing the same thing.
Later, she revealed that it was her plan to complete high school and with the young man’s help enter a college of education to become a teacher. In Ghana, this is popularly known as a “Training College”. With a profession, she could lead the life of her choice. She finished our conversation with this: “By asking me to get out of this relationship, you are actually asking me to drop out of school. That will mean ending up on the streets doing the very thing you’re advising me against and perhaps even worse.”
She promised me that if I could get her help, she would leave this relationship. I went to an expatriate priest of the Order of Franciscan Missionaries (OFM) named Fr. Martino Corazzin. Fr. Martino paid her next three terms’ school fees. Later at my request, Fr. Ambrose of the Salesians of Don Bosco supported Afia (along with a number of other girls who needed assistance) until she graduated. Others like Frank and Valerie Massaro of St. Francis of Assisi Church, West Nyack, New York were also very instrumental in helping many of the girls. When Afia graduated, I advised her to do teaching in a private preparatory school and then pursue a training college program two years later. Students pursuing a program at the training college were at the time paid a monthly or terminal ‘allowance’ during their studies. This was the best choice for her. She took this advice, and today she is pursuing her degree in a weekend school while teaching on weekdays.
(To be continued…)