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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

CRM Data Analyst – Part time – Permanent – Surrey – Circa £28,000 pro rata

£15000 - £16800 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Mechanical Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A key client in the East Midlands are re...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice