Church-backed project will give hope to Congo street children

Church-backed project will give hope to Congo street children

By staff writers

17 Jan 2008

Two British development workers are establishing a project to support the growing number of street children in war-torn Congo, cooperating with the Anglican Church there. It will be based in Lubumbashi, the country’s second city.

The Kimbilio project is being backed from the UK by the Church Mission Society (CMS) and others, a meeting in Exeter heard this week.

Attempts to resolve the hugely destructive conflict continue. Congolese President Joseph Kabila flew to eastern Congo on Tuesday to throw his support behind a peace conference, but ruled out inviting the leader of a group of Tutsi rebel fighters for direct talks.

There are now some 250,000 children living on the streets in the Democratic Republic of Congo (known as Zaire under former dictator Mobutu) social worker Ian Harvey told a packed Anglican congregation in southwest England on Sunday.

He and his co-worker Mark Gant were speaking at St Stephen’s Church, Exeter. They said that the Kimbilio project aims to get going at the end of 2008, after a period of vocational and language training, and is now seeking support through the Congo Children Trust (www.congochildrentrust.org).

‘Kimbilio’ is a Swahili word for a place of sanctuary. Harvey will be backed by the Church Mission Society (CMS), one of the oldest Anglican agencies, which works in partnership with churches across the globe.

The plight of street children in Congo has grown as a result of parental deaths from HIV-AIDS, children and families displaced by war, child soldiers who have been ejected from their homes and who cannot return, children of previous partners who are not welcome because one parent has remarried, and children accused of witchcraft – often as a pretext to get rid of them for other reasons.

Congo is the size of western Europe, but has a population of some 53 million, a life expectancy of just 49 years, 219 languages, and am average daily income of just 50p equivalent.

The second city of Lubumbashi, where the project will be based, is close to the border of Zambia in the heart of the copper belt. It has a population of 1.3 million.

Working alongside the Anglican Church in Congo, Kimbilio – Sactuaire des Enfants will establish a day centre where street children can receive food, education, skills and support; provide accommodation for a small number of kids in acute need; seek to re-establish relationships with families, and commence a community education programme.

"It is about benefitting the whole community as well as helping individuals, raising awareness of the wider problems as well as contributing to solutions," said Mark Gant.

Worker Ian Harvey is a qualified social worker and has worked in Children’s Services in the UK, safeguarding children and supporting young people leaving care. He has worked in a hospital in Congo, then Zaire, before and was an election observer in 2006. He has also studied social anthropology at the world-renowned School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Donations can be made via the www.congochildrentrust.org website.

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10,000 street children rejoin families in DR Congo

10,000 street children rejoin families in DR Congo

Some 10,000 street children living in Kinshasa are set to return to their families, the coordinator of the network of educators of street children and youths (REEJER), Mr. Remy Mafu, said here Thursday.

According to the REEJER, 14,000 children currently live on the streets of Kinshasa.

Mr. Mafu said that in the spirit of Christmas, residents of Kinshasa as well as the country’s political authorities should rise to the challenge posed by street children.

Bishop Bulamatari: I would like a more open-minded new way of looking at these children

Bishop Bulamatari: I would like a more open-minded new way of looking at these children

E. Young & N. Yacoubian / MONUC

20 aug. 07 – 12.07h

On 17 August 2007, MONUC’s Child Protection Division organized a one day exchange and sensitization seminar in the Holy Family parish in N’Djili, Kinshasa, within the framework of the joint MONUC and Congolese National Police (PNC) child protection campaign. Among the participants were PNC commanders, local authorities, leaders of local women’s groups and church leaders. Dominique Bulamatari, auxiliary Bishop of Kinshasa, gave us his views on the campaign, the role of the church and the long term solution to the phenomenon of street children in Kinshasa and the DRC.

Interview

What is the role of the church in the campaign?

The role of the church initially is to facilitate the child protection meetings and discussions between the various partners on street children. The church would also like to be a partner, so that the image of street children can be improved and so that we can think about street children, and what would be in their best interests.

What has led to the campaign being set up?

The last investigation carried out in Kinshasa this year showed that there are 14,000 children on the streets. It is serious for an African city, especially when people talk of African solidarity. This investigation shows a reality and if we don’t pay attention, we are likely to have a human time bomb which will make our city intolerable.

We are likely to have a generation which was born on the street and which grows up on the street, with increased crime and insecurity. This is because the natural environment for the development of a child is the family, and not the street.

For Catholics, God didn’t create the world so that children end up on the street. The child is always a gift, a gift which arrives within a natural framework which is the family, the home.

What do you think of this campaign?

It is good that the police force is sensitized because it is often in contact with these children. Recently, when there were problems in Kinshasa, the police force rounded up the street children. But if one looked at it more closely, one realized there was certain treatment which was unnecessary. They are already suffering in the street and this raid made it worse.

The campaign must also be aimed at the mothers so that they can view the police as proving security for people and their property, and not as the enemy. One cannot prevent them doing their work.

It is necessary for us to come together around a table, to show our common and individual interests, and the language becomes common.

As a bishop, I would tell the police officers to look closely at their work methods so that this method does not create more problems than we already have, to be critical of themselves with regard to these children, not to treat these children with the same stereotypes.

In general these children are not bad. But the manner in which we view them is sometimes more wrong then right. The police force today needs to improve their contact with these children through dialogue, as well as the parents who end up leaving these children on the street.

I would like to see a more open-minded new way of looking at these children, new ways of treating them. Violence perpetuates violence and it is shown elsewhere that there are other ways.

Do you think that the campaign will improve the lives of street children here in Kinshasa?

I think the campaign will improve the situation of our street children, because everyone is working on their end; police officers, the mothers of children and the priests in their churches.

The campaign brings us together so that we will all speak the same language so that the child, who is our target, can hear same the langauage. If he receives several languages, he will not understand the action of protection which is for his benefit.

In your opinion, what is the long-term solution to the problem of street children?

What one can foresee as a long-term solution is a strong state where the families receive what it is necessary to shoulder their responsibility with regard to the children that they bring into the world. In other words, to give parents the means to nourish their children and to pay for their education and health.

What advice would you give to mothers so that they avoid leaving their children on the streets?

I would tell the mothers to make a real effort not to give up their children. There are structures which try to take their issues into account. We organised CARITAS so that in each parish, there is a small circle of counsellors.

They will not answer requests immediately but they can relay their questions to find solutions. I ask them to come together, to expose and discuss their problems because united we stand, divided we fall.

It is a problem which many mothers go through. There are NGOs which work in this area, who help to find solutions and make their stories heard.

Campaign Launched to Aid More Than 14,000 Street Children in Kinshasa

Campaign Launched to Aid More Than 14,000 Street Children in Kinshasa

United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa)
NEWS
14 June 2007
Posted to the web 14 June 2007

By Eoin Young

A joint MONUC – Congolese National Police (PNC) campaign for child protection in the DRC, in partnership with UNICEF and the DRC Ministry of the Interior, was launched this Thursday 14 June 2007 at MONUC headquarters in Kinshasa, aimed at aiding the lives of more than 14,000 children living on Kinshasa’s streets.

The campaign will run until November 20, 2007, when the campaign partners will meet to assess the achievements and progress made in relation to this important issue, which is paramount to the future success of the DRC.

In his opening address, UN Deputy Special Representative to the Secretary General in the DRC Ross Mountain said that every day one hears of the problem of street children and the law in Kinshasa.

"UNICEF did a census which estimated that there are more than 14,000 children living on the streets of Kinshasa, with many open to violence and abuse on a daily basis. They count on the PNC to protect them, which is the reason why this initiative was launched."

"The objective of the campaign is to underline the important role of child protection and to have well trained and informed police who will respect the rights of minors, and promote the message of child protection," he added.

The campaign also aims, in conjunction with UNICEF, the PNC, as well as MONUC police and MONUC’s Child Protection Division, to instill a code of good practice within the PNC in relation to child protection as well as reinforcing their capacities and sensitizing the public on the importance of child protection within society.

Spokesman for the DRC Ministry of the Interior Col. Kabengele explained that the DRC government is committed to working in partnership so that this problem can be addressed.

"50% of the DRC population are children, and it’s critical that they be protected. We have set up technical groups to examine the problem, comprising of representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Youth and Social services, and specialised child protection units within the PNC are planned," he said.

Tony Bloomberg from UNICEF said the situation of children vis à vis the law in the DRC was a concern for them, with up to 10 children being held in police cells every day.

"The key actors with regard to child protection are the PNC, children’s courts and social welfare services. The first step in this process will be a new code of protection for children, which will be legislated in July," he said.

"Up to 60% of children living on the streets of Kinshasa alone are thrown onto the streets with impunity by their parents, accused of sorcery and witchcraft. Poverty is no excuse for the violence done against these children, and a protective environment needs to be set up for children so that they can be protected," he underlined.

MONUC Police Commissioner Daniel Cure said that what was needed was a police force in the DRC that works closely with the population and responds to their needs.

"A necessary partnership with civil society is needed which give a collective awareness among all of the importance of child protection, in the family, schools, the PNC and DRC society in general.

The campaign will officially start on Saturday June 16, which is African Child Day.

Around 20,000 street children wander in Kinshasa

Africa Feature: Around 20,000 street children wander in Kinshasa
    

Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a city of more than 7 million people, is a host to about 20,000 street children, commonly known as "shegues," thus constituting an untenable and deplorable social phenomenon.

Remi Mafou, coordinator of the Network of Educators for Children and Young People on the Street (REEJER), Wednesday said this figure was established by a census conducted by his organization at the end of 2005, with the active participation of officials from the ministry for social affairs, women issues and family as well as with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

According to Mafou, out of all the street children living in Kinshasa, 74.59 percent are boys with the rest being girls: orphans, who have lost both parents aged between 0 and 18 years represent 25.8 percent of this children. About 21.78 percent of these children are beggars, 5.93 percent are street vendors while 30.98 percent are engaged in minor jobs.

Mafou said the children can be grouped under six categories, notably, abandoned children, orphans who have lost one or both parents, children commonly known as wizards, displaced or non- accompanied children, young street adults and street children who are off springs of the young street adults.

Speaking on the causes which push the children into the streets, Jean-Pierre Godding, coordinator of programs at the NGO known as Ndako ya Biso, said the economic crisis which has been experienced in the DRC for the last 30 years is the root cause of this phenomenon.

According to Godding, many children left their homes in search of food and never returned; many have equally fallen victim to the suffering of their parents who accuse them of being evil, branding them wizards and throwing them into the streets. A good number also fled their homes due to mistreatment from stepmothers and stepfathers.

Poor living conditions especially with regard to families affected by unemployment, mediocre earnings, the end of state- sponsored education, the war and AIDS, has pushed the majority of these children into the streets.

"We were no longer eating well in the house. I was forced to go to school on an empty stomach. This forced me to venture into the central market in Kinshasa where I help vendors with the transportation of their produce from the depot to the market and vice-versa. At the end of the day, I earn between 1,000 and 1,500 Congolese francs (about 2 to 3 U.S. dollars), which enables me to buy clothing and food," Willy, a 13-year-old boy said.

Life on the street is both difficult and dangerous. Many of the children say it is not easy to live on the streets. One has to be prepared to lead this life.

Indeed, in an environment where violence is ever present, these young people have managed to survive. In small groups of between 5 to 12 people, they spend their days next to small restaurants located along major highways, offices, the central market and all other small markets in the capital.

In exchange, for doing minor housework such as washing dishes and clothing, they are remunerated often in kindness, with a meal, for example. Others are street vendors of stolen items, shoe shiners, car park guards as well as loaders at bus stops. Actually, some of them are potential thieves. Among them, there are also beggars.

These children, who do not have any family or shelter, sleep by the floor on street pavements, in old abandoned vehicles or under market stalls, risking not only being attacked or robbed but also catching diseases.

Paulin, 13, says he was 9 when he ventured into the streets. Carrying scars from mistreatment visited on him by his mother-in- law, due to the disappearance of a saucepan, Paulin said that one of the first things he learnt on the streets was how to deal with violence. "The bigger kids abuse us and they confiscate our money, clothing, food and then force us into giving in to their sexual advances," Paulin said.

The phenomenon of street children has taken worrying dimensions threatening the state of law and order in Kinshasa. Indeed, these children do not hesitate to commit acts of violence in order to survive. They organize themselves in bands and engage in crimes such as snatching and gang-raping, sometimes under the disinterested eyes of the police force.

The involvement of these children in some violences, like in confrontations between the bodyguards of DRC’s former vice- president Jean-Pierre Bemba and DRC’s regular forces in March 2007, demonstrate how these children can be used to commit crimes. The fight against this phenomenon requires the involvement of the DRC’s society as a whole.

According to Mafou, it will take time to resolve this social scar as it is not only a matter of removing these children from the streets, but also changing their mentalities, changing how the society views them, giving families the means for raising them with dignity.

However, the improvement of this situation will not be brought about solely by the activities of the local nongovernmental organizations, even with the backing of international donors. The matter should be handled in close collaboration with the children on the streets currently, simultaneously with the families from where the children are coming from in order to cut the supply, Mafou said.

Source: Xinhua

NISS grad helping street kids in Congo

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

Ministry helps unite families in poverty-stricken Africa.

Ministry helps unite families in poverty-stricken Africa.

Posted: 9 April, 2007

Story Image

Congo-Kinshasa (MNN) — What follows is a heartbreaking story and a common one in the Congo, but one that has a positive ending.  

Every Child Ministries’ Lorella Rouster says the Ntotila (n-toe-teela) family is trying to heal after their two teenaged daughters ran away from home and began living on the streets of Kinshasa. 

The girls, aged 12 and 13, were among five children in a Christian family. Like many other families in the area, their father had no job. Food was hard to come by, and tempers were short. One day, the girls’ stepmother accused them of being witches and blamed the family’s misfortunes on them. 

The girls decided to leave home but soon found themselves without jobs, money, or shelter. They were like many other street children living in the Congo’s streets–accused of being witches by their families, so they were abandoned or forcibly evicted by the very parents who should have loved and supported them.   

The girls faced danger from sexual predators, abuse, and public insult (accusations of witchery) because they were begging. And they were without the basic needs and without social structure to support them.

Many girls in this situation fall prey to anyone who offers them a dollar or a good meal. Often they turn to prostitution. Frequently they end up contracting AIDS, or they may give birth to children with no home and no responsible father in their lives and are forced to wander the streets with their mothers. Rouster says street girls feel trapped and worthless. 

ECM has been ministering to street children around a market area across from the Teachers’ Training University. There’s been a regular Fellowship for Street Children with Bible teaching and worship services established. Some are getting vocational training so they can earn a living. 

The kids then go to churches, tell their stories, and talk about ECM’s work. The purpose of this is to help ECM raise awareness of the responsibility of the church and to share the load with other believers. Their survival often brings hope to others, explains Rouster. "In our programs…with street children, we do share the Gospel. So the children that are sharing their stories are children who have come to Christ through Every Child Ministries’ Street Kid program."

She goes on to say it was the testimony of the street kids in a church program that prompted Papa Ntotila to find his girls. He was in a service where street kids were sharing their testimonies, and many of their stories were startlingly familiar to his daughters’ own.

He eventually tracked down his girls and begged them to come home. While they were still very angry and hurt over the harsh words that had driven them away, the family has since reunited.

There’s still a lot to overcome, and ECM is providing help. Rouster says they’re still developing their relationship with the family. And she notes that the family is "still struggling with problems of poverty. Every Child Ministries could help them with sponsorships, which would help get the girls back in school and also help with their nutritional needs."   

Please pray that ECM will bridge that gap soon, and that families like theirs can get the help and compassion they need from believers.  Click here if you can help, too.

Rights Groups Protest Eviction of Street Children From Congo’s Capital

Rights Groups Protest Eviction of Street Children From Congo’s Capital


26 November 2006

Wild report – Download 580k audio clip
Listen to Wild report audio clip

Die, 18, who has been in the streets for the past five years, exhales smoke from a marijuana joint, 6 Aug 2006
Die, 18, who has been in the streets for the past five years, exhales smoke from a marijuana joint, 6 Aug 2006

Human rights groups are protesting what they say is the eviction of street youths from Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. Hundreds of children and young adults have been rounded up recently, and the adults sent to the province of Katanga a  thousand kilometers away. Franz Wild recently visited Kinshasa, and files this report for VOA.

Dozens of homeless children chat and play in the cramped yard of Sainte Famille Oseper, one of Kinshasa’s many shelters for street children.

The home is comprised of three musty rooms, where 160 children and youths sleep when they are not on the street. Outside, portions of beans and fufu, a starch paste, are lined up for them on a table.

Since November 11, the rooms are crammed. Those who stay on the streets risk being rounded up by the police, in the government’s latest attempt to rid Kinshasa of an estimated 13,000 street children, it calls a threat to security.

Kotshi Tshetshe, 13, says she was among a group of about 350 who were recently detained.

Tshetshe says she was sleeping in a container, when the police arrested her in the middle of the night, accusing her of stealing $80. She says she spent two days in jail before she was released.

Tshetshe says she was not scared, because she is used to the rough conditions of living on the street.

She says she turned to life on the street at the urging of peers who told her she should leave home, because life would be better as a prostitute. She says her clients are homeless men, but she gets enough money for food.

The ranks of street kids first surged in the early 1990s, when the country, still known as Zaire, faced an economic downturn that pushed unemployment through the roof. Looting closed many businesses, and parents could often no longer afford to feed their children.

Many children and young adults have now spent more than a decade on the streets, and many have formed into gangs.

When Laurent Kabila toppled long-time President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, he introduced a national service to address the issue. The idea was to bring the homeless children back within the structure of the state, by giving them agricultural and disciplinary training on isolated farms. Though sporadic, the scheme continued when Kabila’s son, Joseph, took power, following his father’s assassination in 2001.

Senior coordinator for the national service, Professor Paul Ngongo, described the program as a great success.

He says, 6,600 test cases received a comprehensive education on a remote farm. He says the youths became useful to the nation.

Ngongo says those under 18 were always released, as were those who were unwilling to go.

But, he says, the street kids are drugged up and have no faith in the state. He says, authorities rely on police to round up the kids before they become a danger to the public. But, after that, he insists, it is up to them to decide whether they will take part.

Child social worker Philomene Pambu agrees that Kinshasa’s thousands of street children are a problem, both because they are not growing up with an education and a home environment, and because they are a threat to other citizens.

But she says the government has got the wrong approach.

Pambu asks, "will they arrest all 13,000 children?" She continues, "what will they do with them and where will they put them?"

Pambu says many have been sent to a remote camp in the distant southern province of Katanaga without their consent, and they are not guaranteed decent living conditions there.

"Nobody knows what the national service has planned for the young men, in terms of food and shelter," she says. She is also unsure whether they will be paid for their work, or even fed properly.

Pambu says she believes the street kids are being removed because newly elected President Joseph Kabila thinks his main rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was buying their support and they were leading protests against him. The national service denies there is any connection. Bemba’s aides say those demonstrating for him are his supporters.

MONUC supporting street children

MONUC supporting street children
Nina Yacoubian / MONUC
23 nov. 06 – 17.00h

On 22November  2006, MONUC inaugurated a food and market-gardening production project for street children, commonly called ‘shegu├ęs’, who are lodged in the Mikonga recuperation and educational center in Kinshasa.

The project, which was initiated by MONUC within the framework of the quick impact projects (QIP) was coordinated by a local church in the commune of N’Sele in Kinshasa.

This project was co financed by MONUC, with a contribution of US $14,828 for the purchase of materials. The local church provided funds of US $9,255 for the construction of the centre on the land that was bought by the World Bank. The United Nations agency for food and agriculture (FAO) also brought technical assistance to the project.

From June to October 2006, 14 hectares of ground were cultivated, and that made it possible to pay for the food, schooling, healthcare and clothes of 50 street children often accused of sorcery.

“We did not kill our parents so that means we are not sorcerers. We are a part of society, but we are maltreated and exploited by society for their own interests,” said one of the children.

This project proved that, when given the opportunity under the right conditions, these children can live like everybody else and be integrated into society, explained the representative of the center.

“Today, with a total of 800 pupils in the school, it is difficult to recognise these children among all the others.”

For the long term, this project will be used “to generate income which will be used to purchase seeds and other materials for the next agricultural season,” said Mr. Mujahid Alam, adviser to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC.

Annually MONUC devotes nearly a million dollars to these projects which are used as bridge between MONUC and the people of the RDC; since it “is not an agency of development, its contribution through QIPs is rather small and limited, said Mr. Alam.

This project is one in a series of action envisaged in the fields of health, education, and the assistance to the victims of sexual violences, among others. On the whole, 208 projects were implemented between 2001 and 2005, and 104 others are in the pipeline.

Moreover, MONUC works jointly with other partners, mainly local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 49% of the projects. The other partners are local churches (16%), international NGO’s (13%), and the Congolese government, as well as the agencies of the United Nations account for 22%.