Humanitarian partners and UNICEF help children to relieve pain through artGoma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19 December 2012 - Georges attends drawing sessions in a child friendly space managed by UNICEF partner AVSI in Mugunga III, a site hosting several thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs). “What I’ve experienced prevents me from sleeping,” he says as he adds colour to his black-pencil sketch. “Putting down on paper what I have seen takes the pictures out of my head,” he adds.
Displaced children in Mugunga III are often traumatized by the violence they witness. Since April, 2012, fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army have forced men, women and children to search for refuge in makeshift shelters in and around North Kivu’s provincial capital city of Goma. While on the move, they experienced frightening scenes; yet not every child can speak about the violence they have seen.
“This is the man who came out of the forest. He was wearing a uniform and followed us, firing bullets,” describes 12-year old Sam*, interpreting his drawing. “He took this woman and stabbed her,” he adds calmly. Sam first fled from Rugari last July to escape from the war, finding refuge in the displaced site of Kanyaruchinya. But the war broke out there in November and the boy and his parents fled yet again, settling down in Mugunga.
During the drawing sessions, many girls describe rape scenes of close friends and neighbours who were doing their daily chores. 15-year old Anna*, a displaced girl from Rutshuru north of Goma, depicts a scene involving her best schoolmate who went to the forest for firewood; “on her way back, she met a man with a uniform who fired a bullet. She was frightened and threw away the wood,” Anna explains. “He caught her, undressed her and took her,” she adds.
UNICEF and its partner AVSI have set up seven mobile child friendly spaces to reach a maximum number of displaced children in and around Goma. The organized recreational activities reach an average of 3,000 boys and 3,500 girls every day. During the drawing exercise, children are invited to draw their recent experiences to help them release the pressure and relieve the pain. “Many children can’t speak but they can draw, and you’ll see in their drawings all they think about,” underlines Leesa Mulunga AVSI CFS Coordinator. “We do this exercise in order to understand how the child evolves and where he or she needs more support,” she adds.
Violence against children in Eastern DRC persists and is on the rise. In November 2012, more children were killed due to the conflict in Eastern DRC than in the entire year of 2011. In 2012, the number of children killed or maimed by parties to the conflict almost tripled as compared to the previous four years. In August 2012 alone, before the recent wave of violence, figures of the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (UNSC 1612) reported the killing or maiming of 19 children as a direct consequence of conflict, in addition to 19 rapes of girls, the highest number since January 2012. “We have an urgent responsibility to protect children from violence.” says Barbara Bentein, UNICEF Representative in DRC. “The child-friendly spaces aim to restore a sense of normalcy in the midst of turmoil. We aim to give these kids, who have seen the worse, a secure space to play and receive psycho-social support.”
“When I think about everything I have seen, I feel sad,” says Anna. “I remember the wonderful times we had before the war.”
UNICEF calls on all parties in conflict to protect children’s rights to education, protection and well-being.