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Following Miles' trip with Warchild

Maison Marguerite

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Our road trip today was to go and visit Don Bosco’s Maison Marguerite, a project where vulnerable women are taken in, housed and trained to give them the chance of what the girls there describe as “a normal life”.

The girls are put forward by various NGO’s for the possibility of being allowed to become part of the project after a full evaluation of how much danger they are in and their circumstances, concentrating on 4 types of vulnerable girl.

1) Ex child soldier who has had trouble re-integrating

2) Girls with babies or pregnant

3) Girls who have suffered from sexual violence

4) Girls who have been denounced by their families as sorcerers or witches

The girls at the project are aged between 12 & 17, with the youngest mother at the project being 13.

Once they’ve been accepted, not only do they have a place to live, with 4 girls sharing a hut, or 2 mothers with children, but they also get training in one of 3 potential professions (sewing, cooking and hairdressing), as well as being trained in how to run a home of their own, and how to be a mother.

The training lasts from September through June, with 6 months learning the theory, then a 3 month work placement. If they succeed at the end of the work placement, they are then eligible for a starter pack to help them on their way in business, or to give them the tools to get a job at the end of it, with a year of follow ups from the people working at the project.

There are 34 girls currently in the project, with 23 learning to sew, 4 doing hairdressing, and 7 doing cookery. They live on site, alongside their babies (and 2 very friendly dogs), with a nurse, psychologist, and the teachers.

When we got to the project, we were greeted by all of the women performing a couple of songs and dancing for us. They looked genuinely happy to see us, and were all very friendly, especially the children, although we were a bit concerned that one of the kids was going to try and stow away in Jas’ bag. I don’t think Jas would have minded either.

Long term, they’re planning on opening up a shop near the site to sell the goods that the women make and visitors are able to buy things when they are there (I got a very nice bag for my niece).

The selection process for the women is done on a case by case basis, and they are split between this project and another (which we’re visiting tomorrow). Most cases are referred by other NGO’s, such as War Child, and it’s very noticeable that in every classroom we go into, the War Child posters regarding the key messages I wrote about in the previous blog are there. They are trying to empower these young women, whose lives have been devastated by what has happened to them, to really succeed in life, which was great to see. Whereas yesterday was harrowing and heartbreaking, today was enlightening.

Don’t get me wrong – they still really do only have the bare essentials there. The babies have no toys, and the girls have each other, even helping out with breast feeding if the mothers are in a class.

Training wise, they really are starting from nothing too. The girls practise on dolls before they’re allowed onto wigs, and then humans.

The vocational stage is still learning, not just learning the trade, but also learning how to socialise with others, male and female. We were lucky enough to be able to visit 2 people out on vocational training – as with anyone mentioned in the blogs (apart from those of us travelling or working for War Child), the names are made up for protection reasons.

First up we went to see Veronique, a 17 year old with 2 children. She’s been learning sewing, and is working in a small factory (half a dozen machines) embroidering tea towels. Her dream “to have a normal life and maybe one day to have my own attelier to be able to earn an honest wage, to be proud” but for now she is concentrating on learning and practising her new craft.

Then we went to see Asia. She’s 13 and her baby is a few months old. She looks younger. I have no idea how someone of her size was able to give birth, but her baby is strapped to her back. She’s training to be a hairdresser, and has been given a chance there by another young woman.

She also dreams to have a normal life. She was very shy with the big crowd around her, so we left her to let her get on with her work.

Whereas I left yesterday’s camps feeling like there was no hope (although, as my sister reminded me late last night via Twitter, there is some hope, however small, and the work War Child and others do means there’s a greater chance), whereas today’s project has shown me there really is. 34 people doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s 34 more than nothing, and the same organisation has other similar projects which we’ll hopefully get to visit whilst we’re here.

The project also works towards re-integrating the girls with their families via mediation, and a couple of the girls were off visiting their families today. Sometimes, of course, that’s not possible, and that’s where the starter packs come in.

The smiles on their faces when we gave some packets of sweets to their tutors for the girls was a lovely sight to see.

Right – off to bed. It’s an earlier start tomorrow…

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Written by milesjacobson

June 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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