#TBT, In Honor of Mother’s Day
The discovery of oil reserves nearly two decades ago in the Sub-Saharan nation of
Equatorial Guinea has incited an explosion of commercial business development into its cities, including the capital of Malabo. But despite this recent growth, the country has been plagued with deeply disturbing allegations, not least of which are purported human rights violations and government corruption. The unemployment rate – a conservative estimate of 22% – devastates the young adult population and, according to the World Bank, more than 75% of the country lives in poverty.
Yet, in the center of Malabo on a tiny street sits
Orfanato Nuestra Señora de la Almudena (Our Lady of Almudena Orphanage). Founded in 1909 and supported by an adjacent church, this orphanage and school serves as a home for more than 70 children. Behind the tall, iron fence and concrete walls lives a dignified community of children, nuns, and caretakers who laugh and speak with both an endearing detachment from the surrounding disparities, as well as a simple yearning for a worthwhile future. Here, in black and white, is an illustration of hope in this tiny African nation.
While the government-owned television and radio stations limit Equatoguineans’ exposure to secular media, Western pop culture is a very present influence. After professing their desire to be singers, four of the teen girls begin an impromptu dance routine, singing Beyoncé’s Run the World (Girls). Despite the language barrier, they shout in unison “Who run the world? Girls!” Indeed.
With a high prevalence of major infectious diseases and a failing healthcare system, Equatorial Guinea would have to make significant investments to modernize its hospitals and build new clinics. Sandra, 11, dreams of studying English and becoming a doctor.
Brenda, 5, strikes a model pose in one of Orfanato’s classrooms, where children aged 5 -14 are taught math and grammar. Though the number of primary school students in Equatorial Guinea has risen over the past two decades, illiteracy among young girls still hovers close to 10%.
Viviana, 6, wants to be mayor of the city when she grows up. The current mayor of Malabo, María Coloma Edjang Bengono, is known to inspire many of the girls and women in Equatorial Guinea.
Coincidentally, Espi’s two sisters Victoria (center, 13) and Reina (right, 15) have been living at the orphanage for 5 years, since their mother could no longer care for them. When asked how their lives have been, they pivoted to their hopes for the future, which differed from the typical responses that many of the girls in Malabo would give. “I want to be a soccer player,” said Victoria. Reina, jumping in the air as if to mimic an airplane, dreams of becoming a pilot. When asked how many women she knows have become pilots, she nonchalantly offers “anything is possible.” Of being a caretaker for her siblings, Espi warmly suggests that it “is 2nd nature.”
Despite Equatorial Guinea’s harrowing statistics, alleged human rights violations, and reported government corruption, the more than 70 children who live in the capital city of Malabo’s only orphanage, Orfanato Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, are energetic and bursting with life. Here, some of the young girls greet visitors at the front entrance.
In the neighborhood where Orfanato is located, low-lying tenements sit near barren, depleted riverbanks, as churches, small businesses and stores loom in the distance. According to the World Bank, over three-quarters of Equatorial Guinea’s population lives in poverty, and many do not have access to clean drinking water.
Hermana Rosemarie, the headmaster of the orphanage for more than two decades, holds Erika, 6 months, who was brought to the orphanage only weeks before. “I want for these children a life that they can be proud of. Caring for these children is God’s work.” The orphanage is supported by donations to the adjacent church.
Enrique, 3, is one of a handful of boys who lives in the orphanage who walks with a confident He optimistically predicts that he will become a doctor or a basketball player. Here, he plays with a ball gifted to him from The Afripolitans, a collective of American professionals who traveled to Orfanato with school supplies, toys, and basketballs. The orphanage also recently erected three basketball hoops.
“Espi,” a 20-something nanny and caretaker for the youngest children in the residence, says of her work “the small children are nice and very quiet, also very smart. I do not make a lot of money, but I enjoy what I do – it is a blessing.” With an unemployment rate reportedly near 22%, many young adults struggle to find work.