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Harriet Bruce-Annan - A lavatory cleaner donates every Cent
Broadcast of Bayern Alpha TV: Jeden Cent für Heimkinder - Eine Klofrau spendet alles
Annika Zeitler, 10.07.2013
Change the world with a few Cents? It's possible: Harrie Bruce-Annan cleaned toilets in Düsseldorf and thereby made it possible for poor children in Ghana to go to school. Cent by Cent, guest by guest. Today with her organization "African Angel" she collects donations for children in the slum of Bokum.
Harriet's childhood dream
Not so long ago Harriet Bruce-Annan worked as a toilet cleaner in a bar in the Düsseldorf old town. In her homeland Ghana she was a successful programmer, here she cleans toilets. Not only that: Every Cent that guests give her she donates to give children in Ghana's capitol Accra a new home. They receive regular meals, can visit the school and live in a children's home.
Today Harriet Bruce-Annan lives alternately in Accra and in Düsseldorf. She no longer works as toilet cleaner, her organization pays her a monthly wage so that she can devote her time completely to her project "African Angel". To help the children in the slum in Bukom near Accra was her long-desired childhood dream. As little girl Harriet had visited her grandma there and was shocked that the children had to sleep on the bare ground, that they only had rags as clothing and got almost nothing to eat. "When I'm grown up I'm going to help those kids", she vowed to herself then.
As Harriet came to Germany in 1991 with her Ghana husband, her dreams and wishes were at first totally different. She wanted to study and become a system analyst. For that goal she had given up her job as programmer in Ghana. Her husband told her "I have already registerd you for a course in Düsseldorf", and so she ventured a new start with him in a different world. But in only a few weeks Harriet's hopes and dreams were transformed into a shambles. In Düsseldorf her husband seemed to be a totally different person. His caring and helpful nature that she had known in Ghana was a thing of the past. He now behaved brutally and began to beat her.
Germany - from dream to nightmare
Harriet Bruce-Annan was in despair. She would have preferred to go straight back to Ghana but she had no money for a flight. She could not even let herself be deported, because her husband was a british citizen. In a womens' refuge she managed get her life back in order. "It's important to give your best, to try to make the most of such a situation", Harriet said today. She moved into a small flat in Düsseldorf in which she is still living today.
The employment office allocated her a job as cleaning woman at the Düsseldorf fairgrounds - her qualification as programmer was not recognized: "No-one wanted to take up the subject. And if they did broach the subject they probably thought: computer? Do they have something like that in Africa? It would have been more sensible to ask: 'what have you brought with you?', instead of allocating a migrant the simplest job possible", said Harriet.
Day cleaning woman and night toilet attendant
Nevertheless the programmer from Ghana had no problem with working as cleaning woman and toilet attendant. "In my view you do not become a second class person if you carry out such work. I felt no shame in it", said Harriet. For a start then she worked during the day as a cleaning woman at the fair and spent lonely evenings at home. Should that have been it? Harriet recalled her childhood dream and the children in the slum of Bukom. She decided to look for an additional job in the old town of Düsseldorf in order to gather funds. She reached an agreement with the owner of a pub to work looking after the toilet only on the basis of tips - no wage - that she gave away completely as donations. She only needed a chair and a and a table for flyers for her project.
Back then a guest remarked "Harriet is no normal toilet woman, she's an african angel". This provided the name for her "African Angel" organization. Many guests admired her commitment for her homeland Ghana and donated gladly. Some were even willing to take up a sponsorship. One guest said "Actually you think: at first you pay a lot for drinks and then you also have to pay to rid yorself of it. But for a good purpose, willingly".
Changing the world with a few Cents
With the first tips Harriet gave 26 children in Ghana's capitol Accra a new home. They get regular meals, can go to school and live the children's house of "African Angel". Harriet herself lives fairly modestly. She gets along with €1000 a month; tips and donations go to Ghana. At times she was short of money and had to ask her boss for an advance. Somehow she always managed to scrape up the missing sum, e.g. for the visit of a child to a doctor.
"We don't want street kids here"
Today 62 children live in the childrens' home of "African Angel" in Ghana. The search for a suitable house for the former slum children was not easy. It was important for Harriet to find a house far away from Bukom. But no landlord wanted to have the children, and also the well-to-do neighbours sniffed: "These boys and girly are neglected, have no upbringing and break everything. We don't want them here".
What Harriet found in the end looked like a rubbish dump. Her best friend, Helena who looks after the children as housekeeper, was quite sceptical: "This dirty area can never be a home for children".
But the end Harriet succeeded. Today the house of "African Angel" has three floors, the garden has lots of playing space, and a library is planned for the near future. She is proud that the house now has running water for showers and toilets. "It's not always easy to get on with the craftsmen in Ghana", said Harriet. She wants to take up further 38 children so that altogether 100 children can live in the home of "African Angel".
Also the schools had trouble to accept Harriet's children in their classes. The teachers had no confidence in them. But they proved their worth. Today Veronika, who was one of the first in Harriet's childrens' house, belongs to the best in her class. She wants to become a doctor. A career aspiration that may become reality thanks to the "african angel" Harriet Bruce-Annan. In Bukom she would probably have drifted into street prostitution.
German Order of Merit for Harriet Bruce-Annan
In March 2013 her commitment for children in Ghana was honoured: Harriet Bruce-Annan received the German Order of Merit from Federal President Joachim Gauck. "I was just a common toilet attendant but I managed to turn something negative into something positive. It doesn't matter how miserable the situation, every human being can somehow make a difference in helping others", said Harriet Bruce-Annan.