Book Review by Dee Michell
From the age of 11, Deborah Dzifah Tamkloe lived in a Baptist Orphanage in the Eastern Region of Ghana. She is the founder of Charis Touch Foundation, an NGO which provides practical support and training programs for children in orphanages or on the street, and she received an Amazing Woman Award from the International Women Association in 2020.
In November 2020, Deborah Dzifah Tamkloe published her book, Beyond the Orphanage.
Beyond the Orphanage tells Deborah’s story from when she first went into foster care. Deborah was born into a Catholic polygamous family in Nkawkaw, south Ghana, which means, as she says, she had “three additional mothers”. One day, her life changed inexplicably; her mother took Deborah to live with a friend in a nearby village, supposedly because school was closer and Deborah would not be punished for arriving later than 7am anymore. Deborah returned to her mother on weekends and for holidays.
In January 2005, about a year into this new living arrangement, 11-year-old Deborah was taken to the Baptist School Complex and Orphanage (BASCO). She thought she was going to boarding school …
As Deborah Dzifah Tamakloe writes in one of many thoughtful reflections on what is needed to improve the lives of children in care and care leavers, “the child should be well informed of why they are being taken [to the home], the harsh realities among others even if at that time their mind cannot process the information.” Without this information children are confused and may grow bitter, as she did, not reuniting with her father for 11 years.
Although Deborah felt homesick, she also writes with fondness about the bonds she developed with other children, the sense of community in The Home.
What we learn from Deborah’s book is that a free secondary school education—something I take for granted in Australia—was not available in Ghana until 2017. This meant that even though Deborah passed the requisite exams, she needed to wait until she had a sponsor who would cover the costs of her education at Ghana Senior High School.
Similarly, when it came to tertiary education, Deborah knew she could not afford it. And yet eventually she made it to the University of Ghana by dint of desire, persistence, determination, intelligence, and the help and encouragement of others.
As Deborah rightly says, institutions should offer scholarships and awards to those who are in financial need “such as care leavers and not only those who produce the best/excellent grades. That way, care leavers would benefit more.”
In August 2016 when she had concluded her degree and a year of national service (a program in Ghana where graduates work with a variety of organisations “to help build the nation”), Deborah, with the help of 2 partners in the project, founded the Charis Touch Foundation. She began small, raising funds to buy shoes for the children in BASCO and continued with that work while returning to university to get her Masters.
Reading Beyond the Orphanage is a wonderful opportunity to witness life in a different country, and to understand that Care Leavers around the world have similar experiences—of wanting to understand the circumstances they find themselves in, of needing to be treated with respect and dignity, and of—with support and encouragement—having the ability to make important contributions to their societies.
I finished Beyond the Orphanage with considerable admiration for Deborah Dzifah Tamakloe; she is a role model for Care Leavers everywhere.
Beyond the Orphanage is recommended reading for Care Leavers and social workers internationally, and for policy makers, those who can influence change in a positive direction for the most vulnerable in all communities.
Thanks to Deborah Dzifah Tamakloe for a review copy of Beyond the Orphanage.
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