DR CONGO: Salesian Bakanja Center Aims to Help Street Children Access Shelter and Education
Salesian missionaries at Bakanja Center, in the city of Lubumbashi in the southeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are helping youth living on the streets escape a life of poverty. Poverty and family breakdown are the main reasons for the large number of children and young people who crowd the streets of Lubumbashi. Often their only shelter is the market stalls and cardboard boxes.
While the city of Lubumbashi has both agricultural and mineral resource wealth, the area faces numerous economic and social challenges. The city and surrounding areas have close to 8.2 million people, most living in poverty. More than 60 percent of the population is less than 20 years old. A large percentage of children and young adults have dropped out of school because they are unable to pay for tuition, uniforms, and school supplies. This leaves many young adults unemployed and living on the streets.
The doors of Bakanja Ville, the main reception center of the Bakanja Center, are always open. Youth can access the program to take a shower, sleep, eat, wash their clothes, and engage in activities. A personal file is opened for each young person. Then Salesian missionaries begin a search for the family to see if reintegration is possible with the help of social workers. Salesian missionaries also go out into the street twice a month to help connect with street children in their own environment to tell them about the program and offer them a safe place to stay.
Each child has their own reason for being on the street so each intervention is customized for the individual. Those who demonstrate a willingness to leave the streets begin their rehabilitation at Bakanja Center. Here, there is a hostel for 80 young people. Some 300 children attend primary school and are offered literacy courses and remedial teaching. There are many success stories from the program. Former street children have become teachers, graduates or professionals who have found their place in life.
Additional programs are offered tailored specifically for youth. Cité des Jeunes is a vocational school that offers courses in carpentry, auto mechanics, construction, welding, mechanics and agriculture, and offers a hostel for 60 young people. Then there is Bakanja Magone, a vocational school that offers craft courses in addition to a hostel for 41 young people. Even those who have already been reintegrated back with their family can attend courses in carpentry, mechanics, welding, shoemaking, construction, ceramics, or driving. Finally, there is the Jacaranda Center that has a hostel attached for 35 young people. This center offers a training course lasting three to four years in mathematics, French language, and agriculture and farming techniques.
“Children who are living on the streets experience discrimination and exclusion every day,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Children who are able to access programs that help youth come in off the streets where they face poverty and are at-risk for exploitation, have a chance at a better life. Salesian programs aim to help children live safely while getting the emotional support they need and the education that will help them live independently.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by intense civil war and internal conflict since the outbreak of fighting in 1998. As a result, there have been close to 5.4 million deaths, according to the International Rescue Committee. Most deaths resulted from non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition, all typically preventable under normal circumstances but often fatal in times of conflict. Close to 1.5 million people have been internally displaced or have become refugees in neighboring countries after having fled the country to escape the continued violence.
UNICEF – DR Congo