Why are kids becoming street children in Congo?
The streets of Kinshasa have filled with street children. Part of it is the result of the continuing war in the east.
There is another reason, too, and it is hard for people to comprehend. Yet it might be the primary reason many are on the streets. These children have been accused of being witches by their families, so they were abandoned or forcibly evicted by the very parents who should have loved and supported them. Sometimes this may be due to a real, deep-seated fear of witchcraft, but sometimes it seems to be simply a convenient way to make unwanted children disappear, or to ease the misery of their own lives by keeping the few resources available for themselves. With misery and hopelessness running so deep even amongst adults, many people begin to search for someone to blame for their condition. Their culture is very deeply rooted in the conviction that someone must be to blame for the troubles of life, and that witchcraft must be involved. Children are a convenient target. Whether they are evicted by parents or they leave in the heat of unbearable accusations, the result is the same: They end up as lonely street children, wandering about without comfort, guidance, or even the most basic kind of care.
Sometimes children are evicted from their homes without even being accused of wrongdoing. There are simply too many mouths to feed. Often a rotation is tried first in which certain family members are allotted certain days to eat. When eating once every second or third day proves insufficient, children are ousted into the streets. In cases of remarriage, the wife's children are usually forced to go first. They end up as street children.
The list of other reasons for ending up as street children is long. Children were conscripted to fight in bloody wars. Those who survived are now returning home. AIDS, Ebola and other diseases have left many orphans. Every one is a lonely, frightened, hurting child, needing love and acceptance, a simple meal, a safe place to stay.
What is ECM doing to help Congolese street children?
Outdoor market areas are prime areas for street children. For the past several years, ECM has been ministering to street children, primarily boys, around a market area across from the Teachers' Training University. These street kids sleep under rickety market stalls after closing hours, or huddle together for warmth under a grove of trees at the university. They eek out their daily existence by carrying loads for people at the university and the IPN market. They had been stripped not only of family and love, but of all human dignity and hope, until the arrival of ECM workers who began to show a personal interest in them.
A regular Fellowship for Street Children with Bible teaching and worship services has been established. ECM has been helping these boys with two meals a week. The University Chapel has donated clothes that ECM workers have been able to distribute to the boys. We've helped some with medical expenses, started a beginning literacy class for those who never got education or were forced to drop out of school while very young. With the help of the University Chapel Church, ECM has organized sporting events which have helped the street children begin to see themselves as normal children who could actually be accepted into society.
We've helped some of the street children with vocational training. In 2004, the first two graduated from their mechanic's apprenticeships. They both found jobs and are now off the streets. Since then, several more have completed training in dressmaking and one in carpentry, and all have found jobs or established successful businesses.