The 2008 conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and preceding Great Lakes war has left scars on children in the region. The Democratic Republic of Congo is virtually completely broken down as a state. Many different interest groups have completely destroyed the third largest country in Africa. An abundance of natural resources, which should be helping children out of poverty instead draws more soldiers and fighting into the area.
This file interview with the National Director of SOS Children Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martha Kangene, still gives accurate background for the needs of children in the country and the need for more sponsorship for children in the DR Congo conflict of 2008. The numbers affected by this conflict compares to that of World War Two; nearly five and a half million since 1998. Warfare, starvation and disease have killed via a breakdown of supplies and society. Both SOS Children’s Villages (Bukavu and Uvira) became repeatedly caught up in the conflict and evacuation procedures in place mirror those from the Rwanda Genocide where the children in Rwanda were evacuated to Bukavu. At times the SOS Children’s Villages were looted with buildings used by militia.
What is the situation; the living conditions and how do children and their SOS mother s deal with each day?
What does the future hold for children affected by conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
What is the overall situation like in eastern Congo?
A feeling of uncertainty rules and of not knowing what the next day will bring. It's not war or peace. The instability and massive refugee movements, the cost of living has steadily risen. Bukavu has a dangerous situation in comparison to Uvira; crime is rife with looting, rape and murder.
Children across the DR Congo have been affected by the war with many suffering abuse as child soldiers.
Is there any kind of social, economic and political infrastructure in place people can rely on?
A fragile exists; a group of volunteers from South-Kivu have formed to help people in need. These volunteers try to prepare lists of war victims to enable officially registration. Also, they organise relief and support for people locally and regionally.
SOS Children tries to enable as many children as possible to get a good start in life for the future through education
What does the general situation of children living in Congo look like?
Children’s lives are dominated by poverty, insecurity, and hopelessness and is extremely difficult. Many do not attend school and have no future or prospects. Children attending school are often told by some that it is not worth going to school as many who have are unemployed and find it difficult to find a job. The numbers of street children has consequently risen, especially in the east of the Congo. Called ‘Maibobo’ street kids live in daily fear of violence or even murder, as well as being exposed and vulnerable to diseases. Many children are being abandoned by their families or some girls try to make a living for themselves and their families through prostitution.
How many children in the eastern provinces and the entire country are in need of long-term care?
Thousands of children who are in urgent need of out-of-home care and a new family as they were uprooted, orphaned and abandoned.
How many children are currently being cared for at the SOS Children’s Villages Uvira and Bukavu?
About 300 children and youths live in Bukavu, more than 230 live in Uvira.
What is the children's social background like? Are they war orphans, not being cared for because of poverty, disease etc.?
There are similarities between the children at the SOS Children’s Village and other children in the DR Congo - war has made them orphans. Many biological parents care for their children inspite of the poverty but children often can't attend school.
Are the children at the SOS Children's Villages in need of specific psychological care given the violent experience of war and permanent insecurity?
Some of the children have seen things which makes them very traumatised. Signs include nervousness, strong restlessness or other behavioural problems.
SOS Children's Villages tries to support children such as these with its family strengthening programmes
Are there any other organisations caring for orphaned children?
Yes, most of them are organised locally by nuns who care for orphaned and abandoned children with support from NGOs. SOS Children is the only organisation offering long-term care for children in need.
Can SOS Children's Villages be considered a "safe haven"?
I think so. People often seek refuge in an SOS Children's Villages when fighting breaks starts. Usually, we are respected by the conflict parties, even if soldiers and militias repeatedly have taken temporary possession of SOS Children's Village facilities. The SOS Children's Village Bukavu is located on a hill and therefore considered a favourable strategic location. Often "military occupations" are - one exception occurred when a misdirected bullet killed a child in 1996. Naturally, soldiers running around with weapons is on our children's minds.
The SOS Children’s Village Uvira was only completed in 2003
What future prospects do SOS youths have who are leaving the SOS Children's Village?
There are limited future prospects. Employment opportunities are restricted with few job openings. It is also difficult to get training opportunities where teenagers can get qualifications for their future.
Do many people from the vicinity make use of the SOS Social Centres and SOS Medical Centres?
Many people from the local neighbourhood use the medical centre at Bukavu. Many people attend often travelling some distance due to the services offered there. In an average month over 700 patients attend and the most common diseases treated include malaria, influenza, gastrointestinal illnesses, urogenital diseases and pneumonia. Counselling services are also offered; mothers and children receive psychological support, and awareness activities on hygiene measures and HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drugs are provided.
Most children at SOS Children's Village Uvira are victims of the war. SOS Children's Villages helps them to deal with their experiences; help them find a new lease of life and develop a sense of trust.
Do you feel the international community should be more supportive of your country?
Yes, especially when it comes to conflict resolution with our neighbours - support is needed, amongst other things, with rebuilding the school system, the medical care infrastructure, transport infrastructure.
In 1989, an SOS Children's Village in Bukavu, a school, and a SOS nursery school in the eastern troubled province of South-Kivu opened their gates. This was followed by the opening of a youth facility and a medical centre, which helps improve the population's catastrophic medical care situation in the area. In 1997, an emergency village was established in Uvira, 120 km south of Bukavu, to accommodate war orphans and abandoned children, to care for them and, if possible, help them find their families again. As a result of the instability, it was not possible to complete the SOS Children's Village Uvira until 2006. Construction work has been taking place on another SOS Children's Village in the capital Kinshasa since the middle of 2008.