By UNICEF DRC
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 30 July 2012 – “In the centre, I learn how to knit gloves and make baskets. I love to participate in the discussion groups here,” said Zele Flora, 15. Since she arrived in Mugunga, a site for internally displaced persons (IDPs), last April, she has frequented one of the child-friendly spaces (CFS) that UNICEF and its partner AVSI established in order to give children affected by conflict a place where they can be what they are: children, who play, learn and hope.
UNICEF reports on assistance provided to children affected by armed conflict in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Since new clashes broke out in the east in April, over 200,000 people had to leave their homes; for the first time since 2009, the country hosts more than 2 million IDPs. Children are caught in the middle of the conflict, and many have been separated from their families or recruited into armed forces.
Zele lived in Masisi when clashes broke out between the Congolese national army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and armed militant groups. “When we got back from school, we heard gunshots. Our mothers had already fled,” she recalled.
Together with her schoolmates, she managed to reach Mugunga, where she found refuge while waiting for her family. She is among 54 separated children that have been identified and assisted through the four child-friendly spaces managed by AVSI.
A safe haven in an ocean of trouble
By May, the number of IDPs along Sake and Mugunga is estimated to be more than 10,000. In Mugunga’s child-friendly space, some 2,000 children participate in creative and recreational activities each day.
In the centre displaced children receive psychosocial support through games, sports, crafts and discussion groups, enabling them to express their emotions and develop a sense of responsibility. Furthermore at least 900 school-aged children received access to education. “Children in the CFS follow well organized activities according to their age and gender. It is a safe haven in an ocean of trouble,” said UNICEF Representative in DRC Barbara Bentein.
‘I feel I’ve lost my childhood’
“I feel bad that I saw those things as a child. Today, I feel I’ve lost my childhood,” said Freddy*, 15. Two weeks ago he joined a transit and orientation centre for children formerly associated with armed forces or groups. He was 9 years old when an armed group kidnapped him.
“One night the rebels were fighting around my village – then they came and took me away,” he said. For six years he was with the armed group, his days tainted by violence and fear.
The first step to returning to civilian life was registering at the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). He was transferred to the transit centre, which is managed by UNICEF partner CAJED. Family tracing, led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), another UNICEF partner, will take about three months.
At the centre, children used or exploited by armed groups wait for reintegration into their communities, receiving basic education or vocational training such as painting, carpentry or tailoring. Over the past eight years, CAJED has taken in more than 5,584 of these children. Thus far, 4,838 of them have been reunified with their families.
The Government of Japan is a major donor to UNICEF’s efforts on behalf of children affected by armed conflict, part of the Rapid Response Mechanism to Population Movements (RRMP), which is co-managed by UNICEF and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. UNICEF and its partners guide these children from a life of conflict to the childhoods they deserved all along.
*Name changed to protect child’s identity