NISS grad helping street kids in Congo
(North Island Gazette)
By Gazette staff
May 03 2007
When Heather Aldersey left Port McNeill four years ago she was only headed to school in North Carolina, but now she plans to make her home in Africa.
“I’ve discovered a great passion for Africa and will most likely be living and working on the continent for the rest of my life,” says the young woman, who worked for the United Nations peacekeeping mission last summer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“While I won’t be permanently on the North Island, it is still an area that I hold dear to my heart.”
While in the Congo, Aldersey began volunteering in a housing and rehabilitation centre for abandoned boys called TOBIZA-garcons.
“The boys living in the center have been orphaned or abandoned by their parents and families, and before TOBIZA they were living in gangs on the streets,” explains the North Island Secondary grad. “While there is a huge need to open the TOBIZA centre to girls as well as boys, TOBIZA currently lacks the resources to provide services for girls.”
Aldersey wants to change that. The prevalence of children forced to live on the streets is enormous in the capital city of Kinshasa, where there are some 15,000 street kids, and the numbers are rising, she says. Life on the streets of Kinshasa is complex: it involves hierarchies, gangs, police exploitation, and sexual and physical abuse for both girls and boys.
“Street children organize themselves in amazing manners in order to survive: many of the kids I have met on the streets have seen more suffering in their seven years than most could imagine in a lifetime,” says Aldersey. “Yes, these kids are victims of unfortunate circumstance. But they are also heroes. They are courageous, capable, and determined, and all they need is people who have faith in them, people who believe in them, and people who encourage them.”
Aldersey plans to be one of those people.
“I know that I can’t just hand them money and be finished with them,” she says. “This year, I have created a project that will promote Congolese culture through day camps and a final performance, under the auspices of 100 Projects for Peace. The day camps will be for homeless girls who will then lead a celebration of Congolese music, dance, theatre, cuisine, and artwork in a final community performance.”
While this project is a quick-impact project (May-August), Aldersey wants to leave the girls with something more sustainable, and the North Island can help.
“I want to give abandoned children the opportunity to explore skills and healthy ways to earn a living. I hope that every girl that becomes involved in the cultural day camps over the summer will have a chance to create and present a business plan, and get funding for whatever small enterprise they plan to pursue,” explains Aldersey, whose parents and brother still live in Port McNeill. “This project, unlike the theatre project, has yet to be funded. Individual projects would be funded at $100 each. Yes, that is correct; $100 can start a lifelong career for a girl who would previously have sold her body on the streets to survive.”
Aldersey is asking North Islanders to take on the $100 challenge.
“Once the donation of $100 is received, you will get personal correspondence about the project that you have paid to create. We will tell you our successes and challenges, and we hope that you will share in our problem-solving and project evaluation,” says Aldersey. “While of course money will be accepted from those who are not interested in the progress of the micro-enterprise projects, it is really hoped that this fusion of communities across the continents will spark interest and create dialogue.
One hundred percent of the donations will go directly to help an abandoned Congolese child in a sustainable manner, and these donations can be tax-deductible.”
For further information about the challenge to the North Island, please visit Aldersey’s web log at heatherainafrica.blogspot.com. On this website is information about the original street kids project, the challenge to the North Island to get involved in a micro-enterprise project, and further contact information.
For an in-depth look at the Street Children Crisis in the Congo, visit http://hrw.org/reports/2006/drc0406/6.htm