This is one question that everyone who sees Saada Juma and her children under that Baobab tree asks themselves. A former primary school English teacher, Saada has become a source of confusion to many who happen to see her…
In blue shorts and white shirts, the three boys, and a girl, also in uniform, looked every bit the school children their mother wishes they were.
But Diana Silas (11), Michael Arafat (9), Junior Jonathan (7) and Godlisten Carlos (5) have never been to school. They learn under a huge baobab tree. Their mother is their teacher.
It is this same tree that serves as the family’s home during the day time. The clan spends nights by the roadside near a petrol station around Nyumba ya Sanaa area in the Central Business District.
On that particular Monday morning when I visited Saada at her daytime home, near the Gymkhana Club, the children looked so excited in their new uniforms. They looked so smart and one could be forgiven to think they were pupils at one of the public primary schools.
They were busy doing their homework on a mat while their mother washed clothes. From afar, Saada, in her forties, looked just like any other ordinary housewife going about her daily house chores.
Her youngest children, Goodluck Alex (2) and nine-month-old Trywell James played on the mat with some of their siblings’ exercise books. Saada breastfeeds the last two children. At first, it was Trywell, the youngest. When he fell asleep, two-year-old Goodluck cried and his mother comforted him with the breast.
“I breast feed both of them because Goodluck was still young when I gave birth to Trywell,” she tells me.
A lot has been written about this seven-member family. Saada, has also appeared on many TV and radio stations. She jokingly told me when I introduced myself as a journalist that she had had enough of journalists.
“Not a single newspaper has not written about me. I have been on TV and Radio but it has not been of any use,” she says. She accuses some journalists of swindling assistance channeled through them by those who have been touched by her story.
Saada showed me worn out newspaper cuttings with her story which she keeps in a bag with her belongings.
Her mental wellbeing
Well groomed, healthy looking and very charming, Saada looks every bit a normal person. She tells me how people she taught in school fail to understand what happened to her when they see her. And what does she normally tell them? “Life.” Some even cry as they reach their pockets to give her money to buy the children something to eat.
Speaking to her, I just could not find a trace of her being abnormal. She told me how people think she is crazy, how people say she is a freemason, a ghost, and all sorts of things.
“But I am not crazy my sister,” she told me. A headline in one of her newspaper cuttings reads; ‘Saada: Mimi sio kichaa’, meaning I am not a lunatic. “I told the journalist to write that headline,” says Saada. She says if she is at all mad, then hers is a good type of madness as it leads her into teaching her children how to read and write.
“I wish my children were in school. But since they are not, I have to teach them here so they do not become illiterate,” says Saada. She gave me an example of Nigerian movies that show mad mothers being helped by their children when they grow up.
But where does Saada and her brood watch these movies given that they are homeless? The family sometimes spends nights in hotels.
“When I get money, I stay in a hotel to get some good rest,” says Saada.
Although her children have never been to school, they can read and write. They also speak some English. Saada has two older children, a boy and a girl who were taken away by their father, now dead.
The school uniforms
A concerned Good Samaritan had spoken to a friend who owns a school about the homeless children and the friend had promised to help. He agreed to enroll the children in his school for free and so the Good Samaritan bought the children uniforms, shoes and exercise books.
However, when they reported to the school in Kawe (Saada keeps the name of the school under wraps) the school owner said he could no longer admit them.
“His partners, whom he had not informed about the children before had opposed the idea of enrolling them for free since theirs is still a new school,” says Saada.
With the four children in boarding school, Saada says she would have managed better with the remaining two. She could engage in business like she used to do before her family grew bigger.
“I used to manage well with fewer kids. I would rush to Kenya to buy merchandise for sale. That time, paying 500,000/- for a hotel room wasn’t a problem at all.”
From the way Saada expresses herself, one fails to understand what is really wrong with her. Many people wonder whether she is using the children as an investment.
But it’s the children that people sympathise with. And Saada knows this. “It’s because of the children that people like you come to us,” she tells me smiling.
During the five hours or so that I spent with Saada, people kept stopping-by to give her money, food or drinks and ask about the children. Some would promise to drop-by another day.
A lady close to one of Saada’s relatives says Saada’s family thinks she is using the children as an investment. She says her family has tried times without number to convince her to let them have the children but in vain.
“She gets violent when one mentions the topic. Her family once asked her to let them divide the kids amongst themselves but she only hurled insults at them,” says the lady.
Saada says social welfare officials too have attempted to take the children away but she never lets them do so. She wants to look after her children herself. “I want them to grow together and live as a closely knit family.”
The Social Welfare Commissioner, Dunford Makala says he once called Saada to his office, talked with her but she would not have her kids taken into care.
“She is very tricky. Very strategic. Sometimes she pretends to be crazy and hurls stones at people,” says the commissioner. Saada never discloses who the fathers of her children are apart from mentioning their single names and nationalities.
“We could have traced the fathers so they could either take the children or provide her with child support,” says Makala.
Saada has children with men from Tanzania, South Africa, DRC, Kenya and Zambia.
The social welfare office has twice sent her back to Kigoma but she always returns to the city.
Some Mzungu recently offered to send the children to the Dogo Dogo children’s centre but Saada declined. She even turned down a job offer to teach at the centre. She does not want her children to be raised in a street children’s home.
To me Saada looked very normal except in a few instances where I would doubt her mental wellbeing. Like when she would discuss about her boyfriends in front of the children.
Like many, I still wonder why Saada stays on the street with the children while there are cheap rooms to rent. Saada says her family is too big to fit in a single room.
Why can’t she find herself a teaching job? Why can’t she get a job at a salon (she is good at that)? Why can’t she do any business like most women do? She has several times been given money to start a business.
The second born in a family of eight, Saada lost her job in 2004, a year after her mother died. She had failed to return to work after the funeral. According to her, she had been possessed by evil spirits and accuses her family of having bewitched her.
A teacher who preferred anonymity says it is believed Saada was bewitched by a Sheikh who was competing for her love with another man.
But an elderly man who claims to be her close relative says she was bewitched by a woman whose husband she had snatched.
Her religious family is said to dislike her because ‘she drinks alcohol and smokes the weed,’ says the lady close to her relatives.
The children’s future
Everyone is concerned about the children’s future given the kind of lifestyle they are currently leading.
“They will end up becoming street children if they are not rescued now,” says the anonymous lady.
Section 7(2) a-c of the Law of the Child Act, 2009 states that a court could deprive parents or guardians the right to remain with their children if they exposed them to harm, abuse and if it was not in their best interest.
According to section 16 of the same Act, circumstances for care and protection of a child include when a child has a parent who does not exercise proper guardianship, lacks a home or fixed place of abode and the parents’ habit is unfit to care for them. The same section applies where a parent(s) is a destitute, exposes children to moral or physical danger and engages in soliciting for alms.
It is under this Act that the Social Welfare is currently seeking court’s intervention so it (social welfare) can rescue these children.
Jean Ndyetabura, the Assistant Social Welfare Commissioner says her office is currently seeking a court order so they can rescue the children. “We are waiting for the court’s permission,” says Ndyetabura. “We really have tried to help Saada with the children but she won’t let us. She gets violent at the mention of taking the children into care.” Ndyetabura says once they get the court order, they would take the children into care and trace Saada’s relatives so they can integrate them with the children.
Ndyetabura says it’s not a good idea to have children looked after in care if they have relatives. And a life on the streets just makes Saada’s children vulnerable. They need a proper home. They also need to go to school.