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Following Miles' trip with Warchild

Gahinja, Heal Africa, Mark’s tummy & Flame D’Amour

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Each morning, Mark & Jas have tried to make us feel guilty by going for a run. This morning, Mark’s hangover go the better of him, so with Jas’ help, we’ll be reminding him of this for most of the day. Although Jas is going home at lunchtime, so we’ll have to keep it going without her. And no, Jas still hasn’t done anything to allow us to take the mickey out of her. Not fair.

There was another massive thunderstorm last night, so the roads are a bit less dusty today. Unfortunately, our plans for the day have had to be significantly cut due to 3 security issues that have cropped up.

The first we knew about yesterday, as there is to be a rally in Goma for one of the opposition candidates in this years elections, Vital Kameri. Last time he held a rally, he didn’t even get to speak, as there was a riot just before he was due to start. (there’s a photo at the bottom taken yesterday of people trying to get people to come along).

The second issuewe heard about first thing this morning, with the Nyameandu region of Goma being attacked last night, with the population there attempting to flee to another region. It’s not been possible yet to find out who was responsible for the attack, or why, or how many people were injured or killed.

The third we heard about just after leaving, and involves one of the projects that we visited on Sunday. A policeman in one of the IDP camps apparently killed a civilian last night, and there is now rioting going on there, with the police station being burnt down. Again, information is difficult to get hold of, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, so we’ll be avoiding those areas today.

Our first stop is Maison Gahinja, another Don Bosco project, this time for street children aged 5-16, originally just for boys, but with War Child’s involvement, there’s now a house there for girls too.

It’s a pretty grim place, to be frank. The living conditions are sparse at best, but there is a large dust field with a couple of goal posts and hand made footballs, and a few classrooms where the children can be taught literacy.

There are 180 people who come to the project, although only 74 of them live there. The others live on the streets, and come there to get away. A lot of the street children are away of the project, and it’s often used by them to get away for the streets for a few days, particularly when they are in trouble.

Despite that, the project does do it’s best, and has a 2 year programme to try and give the kids a helping hand. 1 year is a literacy program, and 1 year in the field, with the first part being a condensed 3 year program. Many of the children here have never been to school, even the 15 year olds, and the atmosphere at the project is not as bouyant as the others we’ve visited.

Saying that though, the kids certainly enjoy dancing (and a couple of them were very good!) and they do want to learn. One of the boys there was constantly coming up to me and Wendy to grab our notebooks and our pens, and would try and write, although it was really just a scribble. At least he was enthusiastic!

They also use the project to train social workers, and there are 4 interns here at the moment.

The unfortunate reality of street life is that many of the children here have drugs and alcohol dependencies, especially glue. This leads to a spiral of them committing crime to get hold of their dependency, and the project does it’s best to get them to kick the habits to increase their chances of stopping the children from committing the crimes.

The house for girls is small, with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom.

Typically the girls end up on the streets having been beaten by family members or not given any food (girls are often the last to be given food in a family), so they run away and if they are lucky, they get to come to Gahinja. Some are also child soldiers who have escaped, and there are a few more cases of girls who were attacked via sexual violence.

The worst case of this is a 17 year old girl who was so badly attacked sexually, that she is currently in a body cast. She’s been a street girl for as long as she can remember, and forced into prostitution at the age of 12. She claims she has a child, but has no idea where the child is. It’s all very depressing – I have no idea how, or why, anyone would allow any of her story to happen.

The project tries to re-unify the children with their families where possible, and re-integrate the children into normal life, especially with the ex-child soldiers. It’s seen more as a way to build up the children’s confidence, so whilst they do try and train in trades, they also have music workshops and encourage the children to play sport, even with very limited equipment.

The positive is that the literacy and training does build up the children’s intellects and maturity, which does help with the re-unification process. The conditions were horrible but, well, it’s better than living on the streets.

We then went to visit Heal Africa, which is the big hospital in Goma, and purely charitable funded. It’s a fantastic place which looks to heal the soul and well as illness, so there are more trades for people to learn, again concentrating on sewing, soap making and basket weaving. There’s an HIV clinic there, where a few hundred children infected with HIV who’ve been abandoned by their families live and a clinic for women who have been cases of sexual violence.

Many doctors from America, Australia and the UK visit the hospital to give training and assistance. Whilst quite basic, the facilities are clean, and it’s by far and away the biggest hospital in the region.

It was just a quick visit there unfortunately, as we had to ensure that Jasmine left to get her flight (she had to go back to Rwanda to do so) and we said our sad goodbyes – she will be missed, and it’s been great to experience everything we have, all the ups and downs, with her.

And then it was off to Flame D’Amour.

Because of the security concerns this involved a very convoluted drive on the bumpiest of bumpy roads.

During this journey, Mark had what he described as a “medical emergency”, meaning he’d eaten something  a bit dodgy, and the roads certainly weren’t helping him. Tresor managed to find a hotel which would have clean facilities, and got Mark there just in time, which was good as Wendy had the most solid bag, and she was quite fond of it the way it was!

Flame D’Amour is run in Goma by Sister Alvera, a truly inspirational women who currently has 35 children living there, in a self sustainable project. Sewing was done there, as seems to be the norm, but they also keep chickens, pigs and rabbits to raise funds and provide food. The conditions are pretty poor, with the children living in 4 small rooms, but the project itself is phenomenal.

The children are all orphans or abandoned, many with serious disabilities (physical, rather than learning, including one girl who is unable to walk due to a serious sexual attack), and the youngest being just 7 months who was found abandoned in a bush.

The children performed a concert for us, with traditional African tribal singing and dancing, and even a song in English. They were superb, and, in true entertainment style, managed to get the audience performing too, which I’m sure someone will embarrass us with at some point (I’m secretly hoping no one got any footage of it!).

The difference between here and Gahinja was simple – here the children were all really happy. Sister Alvera makes sure that they all go to school out of the money the project makes. Their huts might not be that nice, but, again, it’s way better than being on the streets, and the children oozed confidence. They also had very good care, with 12 paid staff members, and 9 volunteers working there. A wonderful place to see.

Unfortunately, due to the security situation, and a little bit to do with Mark’s tummy, we had to come back to our base at that point. We’re hoping things calm down a bit tomorrow, as we’ve got a lot to still fit into our remaining time here before moving off elsewhere in the country in the coming days.

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Written by milesjacobson

June 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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