Grace Lambila works at an ORPER shelter (Oeuvre de Reclassement et de Protection des Enfants de la Rue), an organization that provides aid, and sometimes a home, to street children in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Founded in 1981 by a Catholic priest, ORPER runs “open” centers where children are free to come and go, and “closed” centers where they are watched more closely.
Some of the boys who stay at the open center include:
Fundi, a 13-year-old boy, was brought to Kinshasa a year ago by his mother, along with his sister, where she planned to join the children’s father, but they discovered he had taken another wife. Fundi’s mother returned home, leaving the children with their father, but after being mistreated, Fundi’s sister went to their uncle and he ran away to live on the streets.
Kape was abandoned by his parents, and lived on the streets until he was taken in by ORPER when he was 10. Kape now brings other boys to an open center, where they a place to shower, to eat, to sleep, and to learn.
Christian takes remedial classes during the day and works in a parking lot at night. He makes around $3 a day, enough to buy extra food.
Ariel, 13, still goes to the main square to beg. On most days he makes around $1.50.
Other children at ORPER earn money by reselling plastic bags they found in the trash, or work as prostitutes. Some drink alcohol or dissolve Valium in Primus beer, shake it, drink it, follow with cannabis, and repeat the sequence.
Annette Wanzio, who has worked with street children for 20 years, says, “In Africa, children belong to everyone—an uncle, an aunt.”
She and others at ORPER work hard to place children with their extended families, which can sometimes take years or fail entirely; of every 100 children who come through the center, only 40 return to their families. “Sometimes families say, ‘Well, they’re doing well, so why should they return to us?’ ” she adds.
[Christian Science Monitor] ….continued