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Chad

Historias reales

A toolkit for life: Fixing Francis' future

Imagen del UNICEF
© UNICEF N'Djamena
Francis is now doing vocational training in joinery and hopes to open his own business in the future

By Ngabohl Kodkandji

Crouching, with his baseball cap pulled firmly down, Francis' arm goes back and forth, as he tries to cut a thick plank of wood. The sawn-off part drops to the ground with a thud and Francis leans over to check that he hasn't made a mistake in the cutting. Reassured, he stands up and a fleeting smile illuminates his normally solemn face: "Now I know how to make a chair, a bed, a table and a cupboard. I like joinery and I want to make a living out of it."

Francis' habitually serious expression is a mark of the difficulties he has already encountered in his young life. He was just 11 years old when he first started sleeping rough. A few months before he left home, his parents divorced. His mother went to live with her new husband in Guelendeng, situated about 100 km from N'Djamena, the capital.

The children stayed with their father, a policeman, who has not remarried. On a policeman's wage the family struggled to survive. Francis recounts his descent into poverty and misery: "My parents divorced and, after that, my father was hardly ever at home. That all affected me badly. But I also mixed with the wrong crowd, the Colombians of Dembé, and that's how I ended up on the streets."

Colombians is the word used in N'Djamena to describe the gangs of ragged young delinquents that hang around the outskirts of Dembé between two notoriously dangerous districts. This is where Francis discovered a world of arbatachar (poker), drugs, cigarettes and brawls. It was a world that, unfortunately, held some fascination for Francis.

As a result, Francis abandoned school completely. Attracted by the bright lights around the market of Dembé, Francis began hanging out, sleeping rough and earning just enough to buy himself something to eat. In the beginning, he would do small jobs and run errands for the shopkeepers in return for as little as CFA 25 or 50 (CFA 650 = US$ 1). Shortly after, his new-found companions taught him how to steal: "We would steal bars of soap, sometimes whole boxes of it, and old clothes. Sometimes we'd get caught and we'd be given a bad time."

Francis remembers one such adventure that nearly ended in tragedy: "Once I decided I was going to break into one of the shops in the market but I didn't realize that there were guards there. I picked the lock, opened the door, and found myself face-to-face with two guards brandishing clubs and flick-knives. I had no time to get away. They held me down and started beating me until I was unconscious. They must have been in good humour that night otherwise they'd simply have killed me. They threw cold water over me to bring me round and then, in an off-guard moment, I ran for it."

For a while, this became a way of life for Francis. Once or twice – he doesn't remember how many times exactly – he tried to go back to his father but he wasn't welcome there any more. "I stopped going back and ended up getting deeper and deeper into crime. I really don't know what would have happened to me if it hadn't been for the APPERT workers."

Imagen del UNICEF
© UNICEF N'Djamena

APPERT is the Association for the Promotion and Protection of Street Children in Chad, which helps children living on the streets. One day, some coordinators from APPERT came across Francis and a gang of young 'Colombians'. Although he was only a boy of 12, he was already a human wreck. Like the majority of his companions, Francis had reservations about going to APPERT's Observation and Reception Centre (CAO), but was eventually persuaded by the coordinators. He went along and ended up staying there for two years.

In those two years he was able to resume his schooling and be reintegrated into the community. During this time, the Association also helped him re-establish contact with his parents.

Now, this young adolescent has left behind the Amtoukoui CAO and the school desks to start vocational training in a joinery workshop. He has also returned to live with his father.

It is by supporting associations such as these that UNICEF assists and helps children in difficult situations in Chad. For several years now, UNICEF has been running a programme not only for the protection of children living on the street but also for children in danger of exploitation and abuse. UNICEF has developed activities to help sensitise and train coordinators and welfare officers and also gives technical and financial support to different NGOs in N'Djamena and other large cities in Chad: Sahr, Abéché, Moundou and Bongor.

Francis talks of the 'gifts' that UNICEF makes to the children sheltered by the association: mats, sheets, mattresses, mosquito nets, soap, school stationery, and even UNICEF tool boxes to trainee motor-bike mechanics. Thanks to these toolboxes, some of Francis' friends became self-employed and now work independently to earn a living. Francis knows there is already a joinery toolbox with his name on it waiting for him. He is looking forward to receiving it but will not be opening his own joinery business straight away: "I shall carry on working for my boss as part payment for the debt I owe him and to thank him for what he has done for me." He goes on: "I suffered when I was a gangster but now I'm on the straight and narrow road again and making an honest living for myself. I want to carry on doing so."


 

 

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