Continuing our series of ‘in their own words’ blogs, one of the girls currently living in the transit house has written an account of her own life and her hopes for the future. *names and personal details have been changed to protect the child. Hello, My name is Suzane and I am 14 years old. I was born without a father. My mum never got married and I never knew who my dad was. I have half brothers and sisters, but they all lived with their fathers so I was alone with mum. When I was six, my mum started to get sick. The neighbors told me it was HIV and they all hated us and sometimes they even beat up my mum. I stopped school in first grade to work on the market because my mum could not work anymore. When my mum died, my grandmother told me it was my fault because I’m a witch. I had no place to go so I ended up on the streets. I was walking around the market and crying and some girls, who were also homeless, asked what happened and they promised to protect me. They told me about Kimbilio but it was very far and it was late. That night, we slept under a tree and woke up when it was still dark. We walked for hours until we found the Kimbilio day center. The pastor’s wife gave us soap and clean clothes. We washed, ate and played. Ever since that day, I kept on going to the day center. I also often traveled to a town near by where a friend of mine had a room where we could sleep safely. Two weeks ago, one of the carers and the pastor of Kimbilio found us there and brought us to the Kimbilio transit center for girls. At the Kimbilio transit center, we are learning how to read and write. I am very happy to learn how to read and write because I would like to write an autobiography at some point. I want people to know how hard life on the streets is and to change people’s opinions about street children. I want to tell people that we are not witches, thieves or street dogs. We are children just like all other children and all we need is love. I hope one day I can tell this story in schools, churches and to my own children. One day, I hope to find a kind husband and to have children of my own.
One of Kimbilio’s main objectives is to provide a platform for the street children of Lubumbashi to speak for themselves about their own experiences, ambitions and perception of the world. We did this through our contribution to the International Day for Street Children in April of this year, when we interviewed some of the kids we help and asked them what message they wanted to send to the world.
In the spirit of empowering the street children of Lubumbashi to speak for themselves, we are now giving them the virtual stage and have invited some of them to write their own short blog – just a few words about their life, what they want to do in the future and the things that are important to them. This is principally for the benefit of the kids involved – it helps them learn to reflect and communicate, and gives them a confidence boost. But it’s also a chance for our supporters to get a direct insight into life on the streets of Lubumbashi and a sense of the unique personality within each child. We hope you enjoy reading.
First up to the plate is Boniface. He is 14 years old and comes originally from Lubumbashi. His parents are separated and he found himself on the street when he lost some money belonging to his grandparents and they chased him from the house, accusing him of being a witch. He was on the street for about a year before he found Kimbilio, and he has been living in our long-term home for 4 years during which time he has been going to the local school. He’s keen to return to his family and it looks like his reintegration will happen soon.*names and personal details have been changed to protect the child.
I am one of the children living in the Maison Kimbilio home, and I am called Boniface.
I offer thanks to all the partners and the staff of Kimbilio for the care and support they provide, to enable me to live. I need to study to get a good education. My wish is to become an engineer. In order to achieve this, I must have a good education, as well as the means of survival that your support guarantees.
Thank you for everything you do for us, the children of Kimbilio.
54 years ago this week, Congo seized independence at lightning speed. Granted, this had followed decades under an oppressive colonial regime, but within five swift years Congo went from welcoming Belgium’s King Baudouin with raucous cheers on his 1955 tour, to exploding in furious riots in January 1959. In 1960, 17 African countries gained independence and Congo did it in style. On 30th June of that year, the Palais National filled to the brim with Belgian parliamentarians and African dignitaries parading their finest ceremonial outfits. Prime Minister Lumumba gave one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century:
“… no Congolese worthy of the name can ever forget that this independence was gained by struggle, a daily struggle, a fiery and idealistic struggle, a struggle in which we spared neither our efforts nor our hardships, neither our suffering nor our blood. That struggle, which was one of tears, fire and blood, fills every fibre of our being with pride, for it was a noble and a just struggle, an inevitable struggle to end the humiliating slavery that had been imposed on us by force.”*
Granted, nothing in Congo passes without debate, and the motivators, delivery and consequences of independence are hotly contested by everyone from taxi drivers to the market-dwelling mamans to the shoe-shine boys. But on Monday, Congo partied en masse.
Not ones to miss an opportunity for a party, the Kimbilio team put on our own celebration last week, hosted by the Cercle Hellenique (the Greek club) and attended by almost all the volunteers, staff and kids who drive the Kimbilio project. It was a great opportunity for the kids to have some fun in the playground, burn off some competitive energy on the football pitch and even shoot some hoops. Indeed, frère Thierry was a bit of a star on basketball court.
It was also a rare chance to find out from the children themselves what independence means to them. Bearing in mind that these are children with disrupted education, who have been cut off from mainstream society for long periods of time, their responses were enlightening. When asked what independence means to them, a couple replied: “it means that we are coming out of slavery” and “we are not slaves” evoking Lumumba’s own words. These children know little detail of the political instability, economic turmoil and security crises that have followed independence, but they have certainly felt the sharp edge of the poverty, violence, and corruption that still plague their country. Nonetheless, they are proud, excited and hopeful citizens of a vast and complicated territory. We are proud to work and celebrate with them.
*Quote taken from ‘Congo: the epic history of a people’ by David Van Reybrouck.
I’m excited to announce that this month marks the fifth anniversary of Kimbilio’s launch. On a dry and dusty day in June 2009, members and friends of the Congo Children Trust (UK) and the Anglican diocese of Katanga came together to open the doors of Kimbilio’s first centre in the Kenya quartier of Lubumbashi in DRC. Since that day, Kimbilio has gone from strength to strength. Our Kenya Day Centre provides food, showers and emotional and psychological support to approximately 30 children every month, with new ones arriving all the time. Where possible, we reintegrate them with their family or guardian at the earliest opportunity, but many of these children return to the centre every week for at least one or two years.
The opening of the Day Centre was quickly followed by the construction of both long-term accommodation in a house outside the city, and a boys’ ‘transit house’ to provide short-term accommodation while children are in the process of returning to their family. These two houses, staffed by committed carers with a focus on providing a family environment and a social work model of support, offer a route off the streets for between 14 and 20 children per year. That may not sound like a lot of children but it’s a core principle of Kimbilio to provide support in a smaller, non-institutionalised setting. And the impact we have on each child is enormous – leaving the street means access to education and healthcare, but it also means a diversion away from crime, violence and hopelessness.
This year has seen a leap forward in Kimbilio’s work with local children. We’ve welcomed volunteers from Belgium, the UK and Holland who have supported education and sports activities. We’ve taken the children on visits to the zoo, and an adventure playground. We’ve held a Christmas market and hosted an event to mark the International Day for Street Children. And to top it all off, in this our anniversary month, we opened a transit house for girls so that some of the most vulnerable and at risk children can find safety away from the street and start the journey back to their family. We are incredibly excited about the new house and our enhanced girls’ programme which will offer them not just safety, food and support, but some of the skills they will need to be self-sufficient as the next generation of Congolese women. Find out more about the work of Kimbilio on our website, blog or like us on facebook.