‘How I set up an orphanage’: Ridley Road market trader Beatrice Awigo on fleeing Togo through the Sahara Desert
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 May 2019
Ridley Road trader Beatrice Awigo tells Emma Bartholomew the touching story of how she came to set up an orphanage in Togo
Beatrice Awigo decided she had made it through so many obstacles, trials and tribulations in her life it was her duty to make sure others didn't suffer the same - so she set up orphanage in Togo that she pays for out of her own pocket.
Beatrice fled the west African country nearly two decades ago, and is now a British citizen, running an afro hair stall at Ridley Road market where she is a dress maker.
She also works cleaning trains on the Eurostar to make ends meet - but any spare cash she has she sends to Togo to help feed, clothe and school the youngsters in her orphanage. Beatrice had a hard upbringing, hence she wants to make sure other children don't struggle. Her father died when she was five, and her mother married another man.
"This man didn't like me because I wasn't his child, so he let me suffer," said Beatrice, recounting how he would send her out to live with other people, cleaning their homes.
"He'd come every month to collect money. The people didn't treat me well or give me food to eat, so I had to pick food out of the bin to eat. Nobody gave me love, so I try to give love to others."
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She decided to join some friends on an arduous journey to Europe through the Sahara Desert, from where they hid in a ship from Morocco to reach France, then the Netherlands - where she met her husband through a Baptist church.
"In the desert I was crying," she said. "I thought: 'God saved my life so I'm going to help others so they don't suffer like me.' We couldn't eat. We couldn't shower. We had to travel in the night because in the day it's very hot. Sometimes you lie down on dead people's bodies because people are dying in the desert. We had to drink our urine.
"It makes me cry and makes me sad."
But thoughts of the children in the orphanage in Lomé light up her face when she speaks about them. It is run by her aunt and two cousins. She found two children on the streets of Lomé this summer whose mother had died, bringing the total of kids they care for up to 44.
"Nobody helped them. They had no clothes, no shoes, or even pants on their bodies. They were full of mosquito bites," said Beatrice. "The small one would have died, but nobody cares about them. Any amount I have I send to them."
Beatrice has registered the orphanage as a charity, and hopes others will donate too.
See gofundme.com/help-hackney-woman-fund-togo-orphanage to donate.