“I was abandoned by my parents because I was blind. But one day Manuel came to my village to get me. He took care of me in a way that my own parents would never have done. Thanks to him, I even have sight in one eye now!
"I see Manuel as a father figure and I love him,” says Samuel, 12. He lives at Manuel’s centre and dreams of becoming a professional footballer in Portugal. Samuel was born into a poor family made up of his mother, father, and his older brother Solomon, whose sight was poor. When his father realised that Samuel was totally blind, he abandoned the family. Like many others, he believed that blind children were worthless because they couldn’t go to school or help in the fields. “My mother worked in the fields, and as soon as she was offered work she left my brother and I with neighbours in the village. Sometimes she was away for several weeks at a time,” says Samuel. The neighbours didn’t care for the brothers well. Samuel and Solomon were hungry, naked, dirty, and were often beaten. Samuel, who was only a baby, was left lying on the ground while Solomon stumbled around the village with no-one looking after him. “I don’t know why my mother didn’t carry me on her back while she was working. If a mother has a baby who can see, then she would always keep the baby with her and breastfeed. My mother didn’t do that for me, and being left alone was bad for me. I cried constantly.”
Manuel’s rescue mission Manuel found out that there were two little boys who were blind and not being cared for in the village, and he went on a rescue mission in his jeep. “He came to get Solomon and me so that we could live with him at his centre. I was only a year old so I don’t remember anything about living in the village, but Manuel tells us about our background so that we understand why we live with him.” To begin with, Samuel cried a lot. But Manuel and his wife Domingues cared for him like their own son. They gave him food several times a day, and plenty of cuddles. One day, he stopped crying, and once he was old enough he started at Manuel’s school. Manuel arranged for Samuel to have a series of eye tests, just like all the other children at the centre. The doctors discovered that he had a cataract in one eye, and wanted to operate on him. “I was eight years old and had been blind my whole life, so I didn’t know what anything looked like. All of a sudden I could see with one eye, and the first thing I saw was the ceiling fan above my hospital bed. I was terrified! But Domingues was there, she comforted me.”
“I love drawing and I do it every day. My favourite colour is white. To be able to draw I need to have the paper very close to my eye,” explains Samuel, showing off his drawing of a school bus.
Able to see When Samuel got out of bed and walked down the steps of the hospital, he was so happy that he ran round and round the hospital garden. The nurses tried to catch him but they couldn’t! “Everything looked different from what I had imagined. For example, Manuel was much bigger than I thought! My life has become so much easier since the operation. I don’t need to feel my way around all the time, or be afraid of falling and hurting myself or being knocked down by a car. I can go to the shops!”
Time to move back home? During Samuel and Solomon’s time at the centre, Manuel has worked hard to stay in touch with the boys’ parents. Now that they know that Samuel can see, and they know how much Solomon has learned, the parents want the brothers to move back home. Manuel’s goal is always for children to move back home to their families where possible. But Samuel is not convinced. “After the operation my mother came to visit. She didn’t recognise me, and I didn’t recognise her. It felt strange. Manuel was the one who took care of me when I needed help. He bought me clothes and shoes, soap, shampoo, food... even biscuits and sweets sometimes! He comforted me when I was sad. He gave me love. Without him I would never have been able to go to school or get an operation so that I could see. I see Manuel as my father, and the centre as my home. And the other children as my siblings.”
Samuel, 12 Loves: Cars Hates: Insects Best thing that’s happened: That Manuel took care of me and gave me the chance to see. Worst thing that’s happened: Being abandoned when I was little. Looks up to: Manuel! Wants to be: A professional footballer with Portuguese club Porto. Dream: To own a cool Toyota pickup.
“Jamie, Djibi and I share a room. We are like brothers. I feel safe because we have each other. Every morning I help Jamie, who is completely blind, to fetch a bucket of water so that he can wash and brush his teeth,” says Samuel.
Professional footballer Samuel wants to stay with Manuel for another couple of years. Then he dreams of moving far, far away... “I love football and my greatest dream is to become a professional footballer with the Portuguese team Porto. One of the players in the team comes from Guinea-Bissau, but my favourite player is Ronaldo. If I became a famous footballer in Europe, I’d be able to play football, which I love, and earn lots of money too. I’d build a nice house and have a cool Toyota pickup. That’s my dream.”