|© UNICEF video|
|Chantal (centre) lost her father in 2001 but is now enrolled in school and receiving medical care through the UNICEF-supported Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project in DR Congo.|
By Shantha Bloemen
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, 12 January 2009 – Life is hard for the vast majority of children in DR Congo. For the country’s orphans, who make up roughly 15 per cent of the under-18 population, life can be even harder.
Chantal, now 10, lost her father in 2001. His death left her mother without the means to raise Chantal and her siblings. Her young life was reduced to a base struggle for survival.
But things improved for Chantal and her siblings in 2003, when volunteer Taty Dilu Dia Kanda, going door to door in his neighborhood, identified the children as orphans who were at risk. Mr. Kanda was working with a new Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project initiated by UNICEF and Caritas, the development arm of the Catholic church.
“Above all else, the work of the volunteer is to help the children,” he explains. “We are like parents to them. If they are sick or have a problem, they come to see me straight away.”
Mr. Kanda has spent the years since 2003 making regular visits to orphaned and vulnerable children. He sees that they get medical attention if they are sick and have someone to talk to in times of need. He also makes sure the children stay in school.
Keeping orphans healthy and educated
UNICEF and Caritas negotiate with schools in DR Congo to keep orphans enrolled. In return, the project provides the schools with desks, exercise books and other educational materials. Similar negotiations with local clinics ensure that the children receive health care.
This combination of financial and social support is helping to reduce the stigma for orphaned children, especially those whose parents’ deaths are rumoured to be due by AIDS.
“At the beginning, the children affected or infected by AIDS were accused of sorcery and faced discrimination,” recalls Gauthias Mapana, the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project supervisor in Mbamza Ngumgu, Bas Congo province. “Today, thankfully, it’s less and less, due to the awareness undertaken as part of the project.”
Skills training provides direction
In a crowded suburb of the capital, Kinshasa – a city teeming with unskilled and unemployed young people – the challenge is for the volunteers is to give children and adolescents direction and skills that will help them earn a living.
|© UNICEF video|
|Vulnerable young people in Kinshasa receive skills training paid for by the UNICEF and Caritas project.|
“For the children between 14 and 18 years old, we counsel them on what type of skill they would like to learn,” explains project facilitator Nassala Pauleue. “When they learn a skill, they have something to do. It keeps them stable and stops them from doing bad things to others, because it gives them the ability to earn an income.”
The skills training is done through professional schools, with the cost of the classes paid by the project.
110,000 children enrolled
For Fabrice Masaka, 17, who lost his mother, learning to be a driver has provided a new purpose in life.
“If I had stayed at home with nothing to do, I would have become a troublemaker or joined a gang. This project is supporting us by giving us an opportunity to get a job and be respected in the society,” he says.
The needs of Congo’s children are enormous, and much remains to be done to make sure this generation grows up healthy, safe and educated. But with 110,000 children now enrolled in UNICEF’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project, progress is being made.