Voix du Coeur Centre provides a safe haven for Bangui’s street children

Voix du Coeur Centre provides a safe haven for Bangui’s street children

UNICEF Image: CAR, street children, Voix du Coeur
© UNICEF CAR/2007/ Holtz
The Voix du Coeur Centre offers a safe and caring environment for youths who formerly lived on the streets of Bangui, sleeping wherever they could find shelter.

By Emily Bamford

BANGUI, Central African Republic, 10 October 2007 – Walking through Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), it is impossible to miss the large number of children weaving amongst the vendors, taxis and commuters. Dozens of children can be seen working and begging in the streets they call home.

Life on the street is tough and forces children to grow up fast. Many youths support dependents, in the form of either siblings or younger children. Food, medical care and schooling are difficult to obtain, if not impossible.

The poverty and stigma surrounding such children means many are turned away from schools and hospitals. Deprived of their right to health and education, these children face future prospects that remain bleak.

Children abandoned

Armand, 11, is one of 60 children who currently reside at the Voix du Coeur centre for street children here.

After Armand’s father abandoned the family, his mother, newly single and under intense pressure to provide for her family, became convinced her son was involved in witchcraft and turned violent towards him. Armand then moved to Bangui to live with his uncle who, sadly, also came to believe the same thing. As a result, the boy was forced onto the streets.

This is not an isolated incident in this area, where misfortunes such as the death of a family member may subsequently be blamed on children. Claims of sorcery have been used to justify beatings, abandonment and violent exorcisms.

A home for children at risk

In 1994, former government minister Beatrice Epaye decided it was time to address the growing plight of Bangui’s street children and started the Voix du Coeur Centre, which provides accommodations, regular meals, medical care, training and education to at-risk children.

The centre originally started out as home for children who were abandoned or fleeing violence at home, but over the past decade Ms. Epaye has noticed a change in the reasons why children come to the shelter.

“The main reason now is poverty. Lack of money puts an enormous stress on the family, which in many cases leads to its breakdown,” Ms. Epaye says.  

How UNICEF is helping

In an effort to prevent family breakdown, UNICEF is helping vulnerable children across CAR through health and nutritional services, HIV/AIDS prevention and educational programmes. UNICEF supports the Voix du Coeur Centre by providing medical and school supplies.

Last year, Voix du Coeur assisted 2,500 of Bangui’s estimated 3,000 street children. The centre is “just a small drop in the ocean,” Ms. Epaye says. UNICEF believes however, that lots of small drops can make big waves.

Mia Farrow Tours Central African Rep.

Mia Farrow Tours Central African Rep.

Feb 10th – 5:52pm By TODD PITMAN Associated Press Writer

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) – Shaking hands with droves of cheering street children, Mia Farrow began a weeklong tour of the Central African Republic on Saturday to draw attention _ and aid _ to one of the world’s forgotten crises.

American actress Mia Farrow is greeted by a child as other children gather around at a project for street children called Voices From The Heart center in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007. Farrow is on the first day of a week long tour of Central African Republic as U.N. Children’s Fund goodwill ambassador. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

The 62-year-old actress and U.N. goodwill ambassador will visit some of the 150,000 people displaced by the nation’s simmering conflict and tour northern towns recently ravaged by fighting close to the borders with Chad and Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.

"It’s called a forgotten crisis, a forgotten humanitarian crisis, but forgotten implies that it was once remembered," Farrow told The Associated Press in an interview in the country’s capital of dirt roads and tumbledown, tin-roofed buildings. "I’m not sure it was in anyone’s consciousness … it’s undetected."

More than a year of instability in the impoverished nation’s northeast boiled over into a rebellion in October in which insurgents captured several towns. French-backed government troops recaptured the towns in early December, but they have been accused of burning villages to flush out insurgents.

A separate rebel group has also launched attacks in the northwest.

The United Nations says the violence has affected 1 million people, nearly one-quarter of the country’s population, and that tens of thousands of women have been raped by different factions. The Central African Republic government has accused Sudan of backing the northeastern rebels, but Khartoum has denied the accusations.

On Saturday, Farrow visited dozens of street children at a UNICEF-sponsored project and met President Francois Bozize, who led a rebel army that overthrew the previous government in 2003 and was elected president two years later.

"He was completely frank. He said, ‘We feel abandoned, we’re desperately in need of help. There is only so much we can do here and we’re doing all of it,’" Farrow said.

An impoverished country nearly the size of Texas, the Central African Republic has been wracked by coups and army mutinies since independence from France in 1960.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Teaching street children about HIV

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Teaching street children about HIV
By Sumba Snr and agencies
Dec 29, 2006, 04:06

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

Centre helps vuklnerable children access medical helpand advice.

BANGUI, (PLUSNEWS) – Appalled by the deaths of their friends from AIDS-related infections, the street children of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, did not hesitate when offered the opportunity to learn more about the disease.

"I saw many of my friends die of AIDS – they did not know where to go for treatment because they were street children," said Bienvenu Samba, 25, who has spent 11 years living on the streets. "Many of them were HIV-positive or had sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like gonorrhoea or syphilis."

The Central African Republic, ravaged by years of civil conflict, is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the United Nations has estimated that 10.7 percent of the country’s approximately four million inhabitants are HIV-infected.

According to a 2005 survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 3,000 children were living on the streets of Bangui, of whom half had lost a parent and more than half were aged between 10 and 14.

UNICEF found that many street children used drugs, and the girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. "The street children are involved in many sexual relationships and there is a great deal of sexual violence, mainly against girls, but also against boys," said Samba, who lost both his parents and survives by doing odd jobs like transporting goods to the market.

For the past five years, Chantal Lagos has been combining the money she earns from doing laundry with donations from UN agencies and her church to feed and support over 100 street children.

"The girls sleep with boys or with soldiers, who give them 150 or 200 francs CFA (US$0.30 to 0.40), or who sometimes take them by force," said Lagos, whom the children call ‘Mother Chantal’. "People die of AIDS every day and the street children are getting younger and younger due to the epidemic. Several girls have lost their babies, and this is definitely due to malnutrition and AIDS."

A pilot Centre for Information, Education and Listening (CIEE), which targets vulnerable young people with HIV/AIDS information, opened in Bangui in December 2005 and began recruiting and training peer educators. The initiative is financed by UNICEF and supported by the National HIV/AIDS Committee.

Samba jumped at the opportunity. "I wanted to come and meet other young people and get information on STDs and AIDS, and find out how to support those who are infected," he said.

The trainees completed questionnaires evaluating their own vulnerability to HIV infection. "Of the 330 young people aged 12 to 24 who were involved in the training, almost four out of five had already had sexual intercourse, 43 percent without a condom and 45 percent with multiple partners," said Igor Mathieu Gondje-Dacka, a CIEE team leader.

The trainees also drew up "maps of risk and vulnerability" to help them identify factors that could expose them to HIV and find ways of dealing with the risks. At the end of the training, the participants were offered free HIV tests.

"Before we came here, we didn’t know how to protect ourselves, but here at the centre we heard people talk about it, and now we talk about it to others and they listen," said Samba, who knows how to preserve his negative HIV status.

"Some people have decided to use condoms but I am too frightened. Too many [street children] have died," he said. "I want to get married one day, but I’ll abstain until then."

Central African Republic: Teaching Street Children About HIV

Central African Republic: Teaching Street Children About HIV

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

December 28, 2006
Posted to the web December 28, 2006

Appalled by the deaths of their friends from AIDS-related infections, the street children of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, did not hesitate when offered the opportunity to learn more about the disease.

"I saw many of my friends die of AIDS – they did not know where to go for treatment because they were street children," said Bienvenu Samba, 25, who has spent 11 years living on the streets. "Many of them were HIV-positive or had sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like gonorrhoea or syphilis."

The Central African Republic, ravaged by years of civil conflict, is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the United Nations has estimated that 10.7 percent of the country’s approximately four million inhabitants are HIV-infected.

According to a 2005 survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 3,000 children were living on the streets of Bangui, of whom half had lost a parent and more than half were aged between 10 and 14.

UNICEF found that many street children used drugs, and the girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. "The street children are involved in many sexual relationships and there is a great deal of sexual violence, mainly against girls, but also against boys," said Samba, who lost both his parents and survives by doing odd jobs like transporting goods to the market.

For the past five years, Chantal Lagos has been combining the money she earns from doing laundry with donations from UN agencies and her church to feed and support over 100 street children.

"The girls sleep with boys or with soldiers, who give them 150 or 200 francs CFA (US$0.30 to 0.40), or who sometimes take them by force," said Lagos, whom the children call ‘Mother Chantal’. "People die of AIDS every day and the street children are getting younger and younger due to the epidemic. Several girls have lost their babies, and this is definitely due to malnutrition and AIDS."

A pilot Centre for Information, Education and Listening (CIEE), which targets vulnerable young people with HIV/AIDS information, opened in Bangui in December 2005 and began recruiting and training peer educators. The initiative is financed by UNICEF and supported by the National HIV/AIDS Committee.

Samba jumped at the opportunity. "I wanted to come and meet other young people and get information on STDs and AIDS, and find out how to support those who are infected," he said.

The trainees completed questionnaires evaluating their own vulnerability to HIV infection. "Of the 330 young people aged 12 to 24 who were involved in the training, almost four out of five had already had sexual intercourse, 43 percent without a condom and 45 percent with multiple partners," said Igor Mathieu Gondje-Dacka, a CIEE team leader.

The trainees also drew up "maps of risk and vulnerability" to help them identify factors that could expose them to HIV and find ways of dealing with the risks. At the end of the training, the participants were offered free HIV tests.

"Before we came here, we didn’t know how to protect ourselves, but here at the centre we heard people talk about it, and now we talk about it to others and they listen," said Samba, who knows how to preserve his negative HIV status.

"Some people have decided to use condoms but I am too frightened. Too many [street children] have died," he said. "I want to get married one day, but I’ll abstain until then."

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

Building a future for street children in the Central African Republic

 

Building a future for street children in the Central African Republic

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Central African Republic/2006/Willemot
Victor Yoongo lived on the streets of Bangui for years before joining the UNICEF-supported Voix du Coeur centre.

By Yves Willemot

BANGUI, Central African Republic, 27 June 2006 – “I want children in Bangui to learn from my own experience as a street child,” said 24-year-old Victor Yoongo. 

For years, Mr. Yoongo lived in the streets of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Today, thanks to Voix du Coeur (Voice of the Heart), a local organization supported by UNICEF, he is finishing his final year of secondary school and has been reunited with his family. 

“I want to be a teacher and help children so that they don’t end up in the street like I did,” he said.

Mr. Yoongo began living on the street when he was 14, following the death of his father. The excitement of being free and able to decide where to go to and what to do disappeared quickly as he faced hunger and violence.

When he heard about Voix du Coeur, which helps street children with meals, health care and, if appropriate, mediation with their families, he decided to join the centre.

 “We want children to go back to their families and to start school again,” said the coordinator of Voix du Coeur, Pascal Roda. “But it has to be their decision to do so. We will never force them.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Central African Republic/2006/Willemot
At the Voix du Coeur centre, street children learn mathematics, French and life skills to prepare for their return to school.

Preparing for the future

There are more than 6,000 street children in the Central African Republic, half of them in Bangui. They live harsh lives in which exploitation and violence are common.

At Voix du Coeur, founded in 1994, street children come to eat meals prepared with help from the World Food Programme. Others come with health problems. Voix du Coeur has a small health centre, and UNICEF provides the drugs and equipment to treat conditions ranging from sores to malaria and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Voix du Coeur staff works to ensure that every child is prepared to return to school. With UNICEF’s support, it holds classes in mathematics, French and life skills that prepare children to re-enter formal education.

Every child’s return to school is a new victory for the centre and its staff. Older children are prepared to start vocational training with one of the programme’s partner organizations, such as the Don Bosco Centre, where they learn skills to become electricians, carpenters or masons. 

These initiatives represent small but concrete steps in the rebuilding of a country that has suffered from years of instability and remains one of the poorest in the world.

 

 

Central African Republic: Street children’s centre inaugurated

News: Central African Republic, Central African Republic: Street children’s centre inaugurated

Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

Date: 23 Oct 2003

Street children’s centre inaugurated BANGUI, 23 October (IRIN) – A centre for abandoned and street children, built with financial support from France, was inaugurated on Wednesday in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic.

"This centre will significantly contribute to the care of children who were victimised by political, economic and social turmoil," Jean Pierre Destouesse, the French Ambassador, said during the inauguration. France contributed 66 million francs CFA (US $122,308) that was used to build the centre, which cost a total of 86 million francs CFA ($159,371).

French-based charities Secours Catholique and Auteuil International as well as a local NGO, Voix du Coeur, also contributed funds for the construction of the centre managed by Voix du Coeur. The minister in charge of water and forestry, Maurice Yondo, presided over the centre’s inauguration. The UN Secretary-General’s representative, Lamine Cisse, also attended the ceremony.

The chairwoman of Voix du Coeur, Beatrice Epaye, told IRIN that the centre had the capacity to shelter 60 children. She said the NGO would provide three cooked meals daily for the children. She added that the centre was open to all street children, especially those seeking medical care, which would be offered free of charge. She said the UN Children’s Fund and the Order of Malta had donated drugs, and the UN World Food Programme had donated some of the food. She said the centre, with a three-bed hospitalisation room, had two volunteer doctors and a permanent nurse.

Due to repeated crises that the country had undergone since mid-1990s and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the number of street children in Bangui had increased significantly. Epaye said 43 percent of the city’s 700,000 children were aged under 15 years, 1,800 of whom were street children.

Voix du Coeur was founded in January 1994 to care for street children aged four years to 18 years. Apart from feeding, sheltering and offering medical care for the children, the centre takes back to school those who had abandoned schooling or to vocational institutions for those beyond school-going age.

"After a 3-12 month stay at Voix du Coeur centre, children are taken to foster families," Epaye said. She added that the centre had organised the placement of 1,400 children in foster families between January 1994 and December 2002. The centre also served as a refuge to street children in times of war, she said.