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13.04.2006 General News

Homeless And Alone

By Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra)

PRINCE Agyemang Prempeh is homeless and hustling in Accra, and he's only 15 years-old. For the past 3years, Prince has been sleeping on a bench in an open space at the Accra Arts Centre, nearly a hundred meters away from the resting place of Ghana's first president Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

It is ironic that the boy has no shelter, and sleeps so close to the tomb of a man who tirelessly fought for the freedom of every Ghanaian.

Prince does not even have a mat, let alone get a cloth to cover his body when he retires to bed. He is exposed to all kinds of sicknesses including the dreaded malaria.

"It is not by might but by the tender mercies of God that we all survive under such unfavorable conditions," says Prince.

The youth left his home in Bonwire, far away in the Ashanti region of Ghana, and came to the city of Accra just after completing junior secondary school.

"I came to help my parents make ends meet," says Prince.

With high hopes and expectations of having it easy in Accra, he arrived in Accra with virtually nobody to go to and nowhere to sleep.

His hope vanished on his very first day in Accra. All because he could not find solace in anyone's heart.

"When I was coming to Accra I thought it was going to be easy down here, but on the very first day I arrived I lost hope of finding a place to work and stay."

Prince narrated the sad tale of his life in recent years to this journalist. I first spotted him selling woven bracelets on Oxford Street in Osu.

"I am not happy to be selling on the streets, but poor circumstances and hardship being faced by my parents keeps me hustling," Prince says. "I do it to save myself from hunger, and to send money home to my parents and other siblings back home."

After leaving school, his parents could not afford to raise the amount to pay for his secondary education. Prince says he had no option but to succumb to the pressures of poverty and come to Accra, a city where he knew nobody in order to start a new life.

"My dream was to work and save some money to go and continue my education," he says. Three years down the drain and Prince still has not been able to raise enough money to go to school. He explains that he is also partially responsible for the upkeep of other two siblings, one of who attending a polytechnic school.

"When I started selling woven items, I used to get more money," says Prince. "Now so many people have invaded the business, that I don't make as much money as I used to." Prince stresses that on a low-key day, when things aren't going well, he can make ¢100,000 or ¢150,000. "On days that the market booms, I make no less than ¢300,000," says Prince.

"Nowadays, I don't go to my hometown as I used to do previously. No matter how much I earn, I still send money to my parents and sisters. But I don't get to see them because the system is so hard."

A Rastafarian music shop operator at the arts centre, a man he calls 'son of man', recently adopted him as a junior brother and shop caretaker. Prince said he previously carried on hustling as lone ranger.

"Before [meeting his Rastafarian friend] I had virtually nobody to go to in times of extreme hardship, sickness, or to discuss his problems with."

One can imagine the dangers that young and intelligent Prince is exposed to. Especially considering the kind of things that he goes through as each day passes by without parental control.

From indications, he is now strongly inclined to the Rastafarian belief.

"Since I came under the tutelage of 'son of man' I have personally resolve not to eat meat or fish anymore because it is part of the religion," says Prince.

Such affiliations highlight the influence that anybody who comes into contact with Prince can have over his life - provided the person can assist him in one way or another.

One can understand what a minor of his kind is exposed to living in a big city like Accra all alone, without the spiritual and moral guidance of his parents in his daily life.

For now, he owes his life and fate to hustling. He does what he likes. Prince chooses all manner of persons as friends, and goes where he wants at will and liberty without the strict guidance and protection of a parent.

"At times when I don't have money to eat, I go to sleep on an empty stomach because I am not used to the culture of asking," Prince says quietly.

"Considering my small income, I spend not more than ¢20,000 a day on my breakfast, lunch and supper."

Since he does not have a bed to sleep on, or a room to put his clothes in, Prince and nearly 50 other homeless teens keep their personal items in a kiosk. Sometimes his monies are stolen by others on the streets. Once, two of his friends stole ¢500,000 from him. The large amount of cash had been generated from a contract Prince secured from some foreign tourists.

In spite of the dangers that he is exposed to, and the company he keeps, Prince says he does not smoke cigarette or drink alcohol, and promises not to fall into such temptations.

"I want to finish school and start my own business," he says. "I'm hoping someone will help start a shop somewhere. But if that doesn't happen, then I'll have to keep hustling on the streets."