Ms. Harmony Banwo

I needed a fresh voice to bring me back to reading and writing again. And it came in the voice of a beautiful young girl Ms. Harmony Banwo. To imagine that this 13year old author can write anything that could intrigue my adult mind was amusing, but soon enough I found myself turning the pages of her novella “Shattered Windows” until there was nothing left to read.

In Shattered Windows, Ms. Banwo takes a walk with her readers on the streets of her main character’s life, a teenage girl called Nevaeh. Nevaeh was the only child of Ms. Hart, a single mother who suffered mental health. In Nevaeh’s world, the sky is not blue, it had different shades of colors. Nevaeh’s 16year old life is scared by the incident where she witnesses her mentally ill mother grievously harming a man, who few seconds earlier was a stranger but is soon known to be her absentee father. Right in her presence, her father is being killed for breaking a deal made over 16years ago, before her birth. Nevaeh is caught between standing by her once-adored but now cold-hearted mother or being a life saver to a father who left, but now desperately needed her to save him from death.

Unwillingly, she let her mother print bloodstains on her. Watching her mother become her happiest by killing her father, with his blood splattered all over her, opened a pandora’s box in Nevaeh’s young life. Not ending up like her father who couldn’t kill and was killed, or being like her mother who could kill and lived a troubled life, became the biggest decision she would make.

Hereafter the path to her thoughts becomes strewn with rocks and dirt as she disappears into the darkness painted by her mother, a darkness that hides secrets and poses many questions, for which I had no clear answers to:

“People will say ‘your mom loves you Nevaeh.’ I know she does, but the love she has for me, the way she loves me made me wonder if it was real… Is this what being in love was really like? I never understood what love was growing up. Was love a fuzzy warm feeling, or was love a tragic draining feeling? Was there any answers? Nothing felt right or wrong. How can you be sure you love someone when it comes to reality? Nothing is very happy forever; nothing is ever perfect forever.”

A child should get a box of chocolates and not a box full of darkness, a child should always imagine a life lived on candy land, not in dark places without windows. But for Nevaeh, the candy she knew was the pills her sick mother swallowed to dull her mental pain. The burden that a parent’s mental illnesses places on a child(ren) is brought alive here in the words and thoughts of Nevaeh:

“I realized that without me, she couldn’t get away, she couldn’t stop the pain; I was a different version of painkillers to her. I ate all the pain and suffering she had been feeling… I was her last choice, her last freedom.”

Nevaeh wished for a life where she and her mother both had a chance to live together, one without the memories of the thick black knife covered in her father’s blood, one without flashbacks of dark places with cold black doors, thoughts of suicide and mood swings. But this was a dream. There were many dark days for Nevaeh, some days her life stayed in a state of inertia; she didn’t want to die or live, she just wanted to perish into thin molecules.

Despite her desire to live differently in spaces where their trauma was no longer alive, helpless Nevaeh finally leaned to her mother’s wishes by enabling her death and attempting suicide:

“I took a deep breathe, and I pushed my mom off the railing. I saw her body being caught in the air. I thought about it one more time and maybe it was my head spinning from seeing my mom being sent to her death. But I wanted to join her… I saw my mom almost crashing to the ground and I didn’t cry because I was going to join her.”

In this reading this book, I could see how this young author does not just highlight the trauma of mental illness suffered by adults, but also puts the dire issue of adolescent mental health which remains poorly explored on the map. Simply put, she is saying that every mind matters. The World Health Organization notes that globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, this accounts for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group. It is further noted that depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders significantly contributes as a leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents. Furthermore, suicide is marked as the fourth leading cause of death among 15–19-year-olds.

The HAT Toolkit

As was the case of Nevaeh’s mother Ms. Hart, where unaddressed, adolescent mental health conditions grow with them to adulthood, impairing their wellbeing and limiting their opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults. As part of its promotive and preventive interventions for adolescent mental health, the World Health Organization and UNICEF in a joint effort, had introduced the Helping Adolescents Thrive (HAT) Initiative. Aligning with this was their production of the Helping Adolescents Thrive Toolkit in 2020. The HAT Toolkit presents strategies to promote and protect adolescent mental health globally.

Yet protecting children and adolescents is a duty for us all. Literary works continues to prove an effective medium for promoting mental health issues. In an admirably succinct way, Ms. Banwo’s work shows that when mental illness happens in our homes, pieces of the shattered minds often hit the children. In prioritizing household and community wellbeing, we ought to put our young ones at the center, expressing that if our young ones cannot be well and happy, no one should.

Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye