The news headline out of Ghana was horrifying enough: “Elderly disabled woman accused of witchcraft narrowly escapes lynching.”
But more horrifying for four Toronto sisters was the discovery that the mentally ill woman who was attacked by a mob while wandering naked through the streets of Accra was actually their long-lost mother.
“It was very difficult for us to see that,” Stacey Boachie-Yiadom, 22, said of learning her mother’s whereabouts through online news reports this summer. “It’s not just because she’s our mom. Throughout her mental health ordeal, she always cared about us, no matter what others said about her. It’s just that she’s sick.”
Now, the sisters face the daunting task of getting their mother, Barbara, 53, — a Canadian citizen who is missing all of her identification — out of the psychiatric hospital in her native Ghana, where she was admitted after the attack, and back to Toronto, where they believe she’ll get better care.
For weeks, they have been trying to deal with distant relatives, Canadian officials and hospital administrators in Ghana in their bid to connect with the woman who disappeared from their lives in 2009. The sisters had been raised by someone else from the time they were all quite young.
Although an emergency travel document is being issued by the Canadian visa office in Accra, the sisters said the hospital has refused to discharge their mother, who suffers from schizophrenia, until they pay the $1,850 bill. They’re also trying to scrape together money for airfare so at least one of the sisters can fly to Ghana to accompany their mother home.
“We had been disconnected from our mom … She was sick and was not able to see her kids, but we know she cares about us,” said Stephanie Boachie-Yiadom, 24, who recently graduated from the University of Toronto and is trying to get a high school teaching job.
Stacey said she, Stephanie and their eldest sister, Christel, 26, can barely make ends meet, while the youngest, Drucilla, 20, is a student at Seneca College.
“We are between a rock and a hard place,” said Stephanie. “It’s a battle for us already.”
Barbara Boachie-Yiadom was admitted to the Pantang Psychiatric Hospital on May 14 after she was spotted wandering naked through the streets of the Ghanaian capital. She drew a crowd who taunted her for being half-man, half-woman — she still bore scars from a recent operation for a prolapsed uterus — and took cellphone photos that were posted on social media.
“Onlookers quickly accused her of being a witch, citing as evidence her supposedly ‘masculine’ facial features,” said a report by The Observers, an online news site.
“Several assailants covered (her) with anointing oil in order to ‘exorcise’ her. Other images suggest that her head was shaved by people in the crowd. Fortunately, police officers intervened before things got even more out of hand,” the news site reported.
Christiana Reynolds, an official with the Pantang Psychiatric Hospital, confirmed Barbara Boachie-Yiadom is a patient there. She told the Star she cannot be discharged until the bills are paid or a payment plan is established.
The sisters said they were told by both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Ontario’s health ministry that they can’t offer financial assistance.
“We don’t really even know our mother, but we want her to get the proper care she needs,” Stephanie said. “She’s not getting it in Ghana.”
The sisters have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay the hospital bill and the costs of airfare, estimating they’ll need at least $4,000.
Stacey Boachie-Yiadom said her parents — mom, a personal support worker, and dad Agyemang, a welder — came to Canada in the 1980s. Her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and severe depression about the time of the couple’s separation, in 1992, she said.
Stacey said the sisters’ memories of their mother are blurry, with little contact except for a hospital visit when she was being treated for mental health issues and another when she was living in transitional housing in Regent Park.
Stacey said she believes her mother left for Ghana around 2009. She and her siblings learned of their other’s whereabouts only this summer, from the Ghanaian community, when the story and photos of the witchcraft incident spread on social media.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson François Lasalle refused to comment on the case and would only say, “We are aware of a Canadian citizen facing medical issues in Ghana and Canadian officials are providing consular assistance to the individual in Ghana, and the family in Canada.”