Angola, 28 December: UNICEF supports efforts to keep young Angolans off the streets
LUANDA, Angola, 28 December 2010 – A line of ships wait to enter the port of Luanda, bringing goods that are paid for by Angola’s oil boom. It’s a holiday and the beach is busy with children playing.
A restaurant’s tables and chairs are covered with frilly cloths, ready for a wedding party, as two young women tuck into a lunch of Bacalhau – salted codfish.
Margarida is 22 and Luisa is 23. A few years ago, they might have found themselves outside the restaurant begging for bread, or cash to buy it. Both were street children.
Today, Margarida and Luisa are joined by Marcela Costa, a Luanda artist who runs a UNICEF-supported female drumming group in which they play. The days’ rehearsal and a photo shoot are over. Although the women don’t like to remember their past lives, they are willing to tell their stories. The drumming group has given them back their self-confidence.
“It’s therapy,” says Ms. Costa, whose group is one example how UNICEF helps non-governmental organizations protect young people at risk.
‘We used to beg’
Margarida remembers coming to Luanda from Zaire Province via boat with her baby sister when she was six. Angola’s civil war was not yet over then, and she didn’t attend school. Eventually, she moved in with an aunt and uncle. She wanted to study, but there was no money, and after a while the uncle threw her out into the street because there were too many children in the house.
Luisa tells a similar story. Her father died when she was three, and his family took the house. With her mother and siblings, she moved into an aunt’s wooden shack. Luisa didn’t go to school, either. Although she was the youngest in the family, she had to work, washing up in restaurants.
“Sometimes we used to beg food from neighbours just to get through the night,” she remembers. “We just ate funge [cassava flour cooked into a stiff porridge] or simple rice.”
When Luisa was 12, her mother died and she had to leave her uncle’s house.
“He could not support us,” she says. “There was nowhere to go. I felt very alone. I slept in the street. We covered ourselves with plastic to keep off the rain. Often there was nothing to eat. Sometimes the women selling food would give us bread. Rich people never gave to us.”
Luisa continues: “There were gangsters in the street and they would try to rape me, but somebody always managed to stop them.”
Margarida recalls how her uncle tried to rape her. “He would come home drunk and start beating people,” she says, her voice breaking. “Then he would come to me and undress me, telling me it was only a joke, but luckily people always managed to pull him off.”
A secure future
Margarida adds that her interest in the arts first brought her into contact with Ms. Costa at a Luanda gallery.
“My only entertainment was drawing,” says Margarida. “I wanted to learn how to design and make clothes. I had joined a youth brigade and they introduced me to the gallery, where Marcela has a women’s art group. Then I saw the women drumming and I knew I wanted to take part. Drumming calmed me.”
Luisa, who is now married, notes that her husband thought drumming was only for men and asked her to drop it. She refused, and now he regularly attends her performances. Luisa is attending school and has reached tenth grade. Her husband has a job packing shelves in a supermarket, and the future looks secure.
For her part, Margarida has ambitions to become a lawyer. “I will defend the poorest and the weakest, especially children and their rights, because I’ve lived it,” she says. “I’ve seen people suffer. It’s time to stop these things.”
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