Independent Appeal: A hope from hell

With thousands of children being abandoned as 'witches' in DR Congo, Daniel Howden finds a charity trying to bring families back together

CLICK HERE TO DONATE NOW.

Julien used to be a witch. His grandmother was the first to spot something sinister about the boy. She blamed him for the unexpected deaths of his aunt and cousin soon after he moved in with them. In despair she took him, then aged 12, to one of the thousands of revivalist churches in post-war Congo, where exorcists attempted to drive out evil spirits by pouring chilli water in his eyes and burying him up to his neck in the ground for days at a time.

When this did not work his grandmother threw him out to live on the streets of Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo's filthy, frightening capital. Each night Julien would join the legions of faseurs (rough-sleepers) who haunt the sides of the city's crumbling roads and crowded slums.

Julien found that he was not alone. Thousands of other boys and girls had been labelled witches and set adrift. He had been told so many times that he was a witch, or a kindoki in his native Lingala, that he couldn't help but believe it was true.

It was only after he was rescued from the streets and came to live in the Bana ya Poveda, a centre for rescued children, that he changed his mind. Now after three years of schooling and support he is able to talk about his past.

"In my family they were insulting me and calling me kindoki," says the 15-year-old. "When I was on the street it was very real but when I came here they told me there are no witches in Kinshasa. It was all lies." The regional conflagration that raged in the Congo cost five million lives and its legacy continues to blight many survivors. Families like Julien's were forced from their homes – often running from one town to the next, or fleeing like his parents across the border to Angola – in an exodus that tore up communities.

In the ensuing chaos, even Africa's richest resource, the extended family, was overwhelmed. In times of extraordinary stress traditional beliefs have come to the fore and the accusation of witchcraft became a destructive commonplace. Often the last child into the home became the first thrown out when there was not enough to go around. The word kindoki was often an excuse. "The war has taken something that was already there and made it much worse," explains Lwango Madho, a field worker with Save the Children, which supports centres in Kinshasa like the one in which Julien and 45 other boys now live.

When some boys in the centre's rowdy playground hear the word kindoki, an argument ensues: "If you think kindokis are real, what colour are they?" demands one boy. After thinking it over the another boy replies "black" but he doesn't look sure. A distended belly, skin rashes, bed-wetting and torn clothes are among the tell-tale signs communities use to spot a witch. And thousands of quack pastors are making money out of the superstitions, offering scared families elaborate, cruel exorcism ceremonies. "It's a long process to convince the family that there's nothing to be scared of," says Ms Madho, whose job it is to locate and, where possible, reconcile the child with their surviving relatives.

Meanwhile centres like Bana ya Poveda provide some of the lucky ones from an estimated 14,000 faseurs with an education and a trade such as electrician or cobbler. But even the little help they afford, which costs less than £1 per day, per child, is under threat as European donors retreat under the strain of the debt crisis.

For some, like Frederic, nine, the centre has provided a happy next chapter to a darkly Dickensian life. As a small boy he was forced to leave his mother and went to live with his father when the policeman married another woman. But his stepmother was cruel and had him thrown out for being a witch. He was then brought to Kinshasa by child traffickers who sold him to a Fagin, from whom he escaped.

"It was difficult on the streets, people would beat you for nothing and treat us badly," he remembers.

That life is over for a third boy, David. Save the Children has found his mother who knew nothing of his plight and is ready to take him in. He is nervous to leave his friends and see his mother after so long but feels good to be getting his family back: "A house is always more than a centre. A centre is not my place."

The names of the boys have been changed to protect them

Appeal partners: Who we are supporting

Save the Children

Save the Children works in 120 countries, including the UK. It saves children's lives, fights for their rights and help them fulfil their potential. Save the Children's vital work reaches more than 8 million children each year – keeping them alive, getting them into school and protecting them from harm. www.savethechildren.org.uk

 

 

The Children's Society

The Children's Society provides crucial support to vulnerable children and young people in England, including those who have run away from home. Many have experienced neglect, isolation or abuse, and all they want is a safe and happy home. Its project staff provide essential support to desperate children who have nowhere else to turn.

www.childrenssociety.org.uk

 

 

Rainbow Trust Children's Charity

Rainbow Trust Children's Charity provides emotional and practical support for families who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. For families living with a child who is going to die, Rainbow Trust is the support they wished they never had to turn to, but would struggle to cope without.

www.rainbowtrust.org.uk

 

At The Independent, we believe that these organisations can make a big difference to changing many children's lives.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE NOW.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?