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The First Boy

Meet the heart of St. Valentine's

He arrived in the dead of night.

Struggling to discern the crumbling cinderblock structure from the dense rainforest that enveloped him, he found six boys inside; all of them scared, hungry and alone. Their home had no roof and when the rains came – unrelenting and unforgiving – he tried his best to protect them, using his body to shield them from the downpour.

He was 13 years old.

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Having worked as a houseboy for the owner, he became the official caretaker for the boys of St. Valentine’s Orphanage when he was 18 years old and stayed for 20 years. He received no compensation and the living conditions were horrendous, yet he never considered leaving his boys.

He himself was an orphan and these boys were his family. His gentle soul connected with their suffering because he was just like them. He provided the boys with structure – giving them chores and encouraging them to speak English rather than the local dialect. What he lacked in education, he made up for in heart. He would have done anything to protect them.

The burden he bore caring for the boys was overwhelming – without any access to schools or medical care, they barely survived on 10 shared cups of rice every week in a shelter that lacked a roof, electricity and water.

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He often wept while the boys slept, feeling helpless and overcome by the futility of his situation. Visiting missionaries would bring fruit and clothing, but the visits were sporadic and there was never enough.

Through circumstances beyond his control, he was asked to leave St. Valentine’s in 2012. Forced to live in a leaky, snake-infested shanty, he was inconsolable. Not because of the deplorable circumstances, but because his family was gone. For him, love was as vital to survival as money, food or shelter.

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I have known this man for 15 years. He is humble, compassionate and generous. He is the father figure that he himself never had. Seeing him will be the first priority when we arrive in Buea. He has cared for so many, for so long, expecting nothing in return.

I have exciting news to share with him – it is finally his turn to be on the receiving end of some kindness.

His name is Columbus.

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