Have you ever had neighbours whom you thought or could see that something was seriously wrong… something that keeps you worried but you just couldn’t do anything about it? Sometimes you are afraid to offer your help because it amounts to meddling in another person’s business. Some of us just adopt the attitude of , “they don’t bother me, i don’t bother them”. I think the issue sometimes is about not wanting to infringe on the right to privacy of a neighbour. But there might be a need to remove the boundary of privacy when a neighbour is in danger. Let me begin to unravel my thought line with a few stories that mirrors what i mean by being my neighbour’s keeper.
I and a friend were having a chat about problems in marriages and how it can be minimized. Out popped this story about her neighbours. Once upon a time…time…time…i wish it was once upon a time fairy tale but it is a reality in the life of a woman who was hemmed in. So Mr and Mrs Tanimowo (not real names) have the usual misunderstanding as any marriage would have but how it is sorted out is another kettle of fish. Whenever Mr Tanimowo was really upset with his wife, he punishes her by asking her to stand outside their entrance gate into their home. Sometimes this woman sleeps in the gutter outside until the next morning. It beats my imagination how this is even possible … I just couldn’t believe that someone would have to sleep in the gutter not because he/she was homeless or a destitute. But my friend insisted that it was true after-all they were her neighbours. All other neighbours were aware of this continued abuse but nobody spoke out against it… nobody offered Mrs Tanimowo a bed in the safety of their home whenever her husband meted out this punishment. Everyone simply minded their own business. I ask myself how far should we really go with minding our business when a neighbour is seriously in danger or being abused? Shouldn’t we be our neighbours keeper?
Another story of a man who regularly punches his wife comes to mind. This man whom i would call Patrick simply “flexes his muscles”, every time he was crossed with his wife Mary. Her cries became an unpleasant music in the ears of their neighbours. A young couple who lived in the next building close by endured the situation for a while until they got restless and just couldn’t take it any longer. On one of the days that Patrick physically assaulted his wife as was his custom they finally reported the matter to the police. That was how Patrick was arrested. Mary’s family thanked these neighbours profusely for saving their daughter. But for their neighbour who blew the whistle on Patrick, Mary his wife could have been maimed or murdered in the face of constant physical assault.
It is easy to turn the other eye but we can do a lot to stop the number of abuse that goes on around us. I know it is difficult when the person being abused is unwillingly to speak out or get help. Many cases of abuse go UN-reported until it is too late.
I have to share yet another abuse story where a family member refused to speak up against the abuse of a child. Imagine a 14year old girl is impregnated by her father and infected with HIV. Her mother knows about this and even takes the teenage girl for treatment but has refused to blow the whistle on her husband. They continued to live in the same house and he will probably abuse his other daughters or other young girls, thus the circle of HIV and abuse expands. This mother does not understand that it was no longer a matter of turning the other eye but that of fighting for her daughter’s right against abuse and that of many other girls whose rights would also be violated. And since she was not willing to have her husband prosecuted for his crime there was nothing anyone could do to stop the man.
So who is my neighbour? The parable of The Good Samaritan paints a vivid picture. According to this parable, a neighbour is someone who is hurting beside you, you don’t have to know the person from “Adam” as we sometimes say. The familiar definition of who a neighbour is, is someone who lives next door or near you. The person next to you cuts across a colleague at work, child in your class as a school teacher, friends from a club or activity group. Do you also know that people you live with in the same house (family, friends, children, spouse) are your neighbours as well? And yes you all live together in trust and should watch out for each other. Nobody wants to live with or next to someone whom you don’t feel safe with. We once had a crazy neighbour who “terrorized” and bullied us in so many ways. The last stroke that broke the camel’s back was when he physically attacked a neighbour’s son with a cutlass! That was when we knew that it was time to not just speak up with one voice but to scream for help to the appropriate authorities! But we had allowed the bullying to go on for too long, thankfully the case was not fatal. It takes courage and love to speak up to help another, especially our neighbour. Neighbourliness goes beyond a hello; neighbours should look out for each other. It all starts with knowing the answer to the question who is my neighbour?.
Now i know that these cases of abuse are sensitive and sometimes you just don’t want to get involved. However, it is possible to think of a creative way of helping an abused neighbour. First try to get the person being abused to talk about it, if he/she is a close acquaintance. Then give them information about how and where to get help for abused persons depending on the type of abuse. It means in other to help my neighbour it would be important to read about where help can be gotten. Educators have a duty to report any suspected case of abuse. As a class teacher who might be privileged to sense or see traces of abuse in a child under your care,be swift share your concerns and get counsellors or your school social worker involved who will handle the matter professionally. If the abuse is happening within a nuclear family, somebody must speak up. Many mothers sweep cases of child abuse going in their home under the carpet all in a bid to save their marriage or retain their economic status. This is a silence with great cost. It is a silence at the expense of another fellow human’s safety. Speaking up many times saves lives whether as the one being abused or as an observer. Before we decide to mind our business let us all put ourselves in the shoes of our abused neighbour. A simple phone call to the right person who can help will make all the difference. I really don’t know how to end this piece but all i am just saying is that it is okay to be my neighbour’s keeper and we should all look out for each other.