Restoring the Lives of Children Affected By Conflict
In Kasai region, in southern Democratic Republic of Congo, a mother is working hard to normalise the lives of children in her community, most of whom have been greatly affected by violent conflicts since August 2016.
The compounding challenges that these children are grappling with range from sexual abuse, acute malnutrition, lack of education support, and the trauma of being exposed to conflict-related acts such as human killings.
Children who have withdrawn from forced recruitment by armed groups are undergoing rehabilitation at Child Friendly Spaces set up by communities and humanitarian agencies. These are refuge in disaster-affected communities to cater for psychological and physical needs of the children.
Bridget is a widow with six children. She volunteers as a facilitator at a Child Friendly Space in Kasai.
Before the war tore her community apart, Bridget a cook in an affluent family in Kananga, a major city in Kasai. The salary was decent enough to fend for her children.
“I used to feed my children and send them to school without problems. Suddenly, the war came and everything changed. I became jobless and since then life has been very tough,” the mother, in her 50s, recounts the Kasai ordeal that led to the displacement of over 1.6 million people and killing of hundreds including innocent children.
Bridget joined the Child Friendly Space in October 2017. The decision she made was sacrificial, bearing in mind that she has six children who look up to her for support. Their father died in the year 2010.
“I decided to join the centre after seeing the many challenges that children at this centre are facing. It’s not an easy decision because the job has no rewards,” explains Bridget, who is always thankful to God and people of goodwill who provide for her when in need.
Records at the safe space indicate an attendance of 946 children, between the ages of 3 and 18, in February 2018. Bridget says that younger children, mostly orphaned, are also brought to the centre for babysitting.
“There are 15 of us but only a few come on a regular basis,” explains Bridget, noting that most of her colleagues are trying to settle down following the aftermath of the war.
There is a danger that children who were abused sexually, exploited, or involved in brutal human killings will suffer from psychological or mental problems. Bridget ensures that such children are given priority.
“I usually provide emotional support to such children and allow them to express their feelings. Some tell me about the bad dreams they have at night.”
Different activities are organised to keep the children happy and help them deal with negative thoughts. “Children play football and participate in different games. They sing, dance and learn basic things like the alphabets.”
World Vision is providing humanitarian assistance in Kasai. To deal with child protection issues, the organisation has partnered with local communities to construct six Child Friendly Spaces in various locations, within Kasai.
“These Child Friendly Spaces are accessible to all the children. So far we have completed the construction of one,” Olivia, a World Vision Humanitarian Emergency Affairs Manager explains.
Olivia adds that there is a need for more assistance to enhance the capacity of mothers like Bridget to take good care of children in the safe spaces.
“Besides this, these mothers need to be empowered economically through income-generating activities for them to support their children,” she says.
Through its education projects, World Vision has distributed school kits including school bags, pens, pencils, notebooks and rulers to more than 15,000 children who have returned to school in Kasai. It is also implementing child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, food and cash assistance projects targeting 2 million people.