The gate is barred. I am let in by a guard who padlocks it behind me. To the left there is a nice space for a hair salon and tailoring workshop to train in.
The living quarters are a different story. There is one, open topped space no bigger than a corridor which is heaving. There is barely room to put one foot in front of the other as I walk through the crowd in front of me. Multi-coloured plastic buckets are piled everywhere for washing themselves, their clothes and their pans. Laundry is hanging everywhere above our heads. Bright bags of belongings hang from bars and anything else available to try and create space on the floor but it’s not working, there’s simply no space.
Women are cooking on small fires beneath it all. They are only given a few handfuls of rice and five, finger-sized portions of fish per day to eat. Anything else I see has been brought by family. It is already stifling in here and the fires are only adding to this.
At the end of the corridor is a young woman on a stool. She is trying to wash herself and her baby, who is less than a year old. Maria, the legal club member who has brought me in here, says something to the baby and she beams at us. Out of one of the four sleeping quarters another child emerges – she is no more than two. I can’t help thinking this is no place for children. Then again it isn’t really a place for anyone. The child runs backs into the pitch-black room she came out of.
There is very little natural light in these rooms. Windows the size of shoeboxes with bars sit just below the ceiling, perhaps two per room. There are 20 women in each room; from the few mattresses on the floor it is hard to believe they all have space to lie down. A couple of fans stand on the floor in between, but mostly they are re-distributing hot air around the room. It isn’t a particularly hot day (for Togo), but the heat in these rooms is unbearable. I don’t like to think how much worse it gets when they close the doors at night.
At the end of the row of rooms is a bathroom with a few toilets and showers squeezed in. It looks like an attempt has been made to keep it clean, but despite their efforts there is water seeping across the dirty floor. It’s a wonder anyone or anything can stay clean in here. Probably they don’t.
As I come out, I am shown the ‘clinic’ where mothers with new-born babies can stay, opposite the training area. Currently no-one is staying in there. It seems like a small mercy.
Thursday 11 July 2019 – Harriette Y-Care International
This Christmas our focus is on our work in Togo, working with young people who have been incarcerated – through our work and their determination they are finding a way out of poverty and into work.
Please do support our Christmas Appeal and help us to get One Million Young People out of Poverty and into work