After a relatively short drive from Kananga we arrive at a sun-drenched soccer pitch at one of World Vision’s Child Friendly Spaces in Kasai Central, in the centre of the DRC. Girls are running up and down, chasing the ball as small children cluster under a pavilion nearby and sing and play hand games. It’s a joyful, boisterous scene, but unfortunately, one that wouldn’t have been possible a year before.
I sit down to talk to 15-year-old Christine, one of the soccer players I’d seen when I arrived. Like many others in her village, in 2017 she spent months hiding in the forest. The militias that had begun in Dibaya territory to the East had spread and recruited children and adults in the regional capitals of Kananga and Tshikapa until finally, the violence arrived in Christine’s village in Kazumba territory.
“The militias came into our community, found anyone who was sitting around, took them, and started beating them up,” she told me. “When I saw them beating everyone up like that, we went and took refuge in the forest. Lots of people were killed.”
Christine, her mum, and her siblings spent two months hiding in the forest, living off what they could find. The food they’d brought with them ran out quickly, and they survived by eating the nuts and leaves available in the bush. Many of their neighbours became sick or ill in the woods, sleeping outside and without any access to medicines and healthcare. But although Christine and her family managed to leave the woods alive, the conflict had already cost her her father.
“We lost papa. We haven’t seen him since the conflict started. Before the war, we used to call him and he’d answer the phone. But since the war, it just rings and no one picks up.”
Before the violence, Christine’s father was working in Tshikapa, the diamond-rich mining capital of neighbouring Kasai Province. When the militias reached Tshikapa in late 2016, the violence took a nasty ethnic turn, sending thousands of people fleeing for refuge over the border in Angola. Many families in Kasai Central know at least one person who was caught up in the chaos.
Today, the violence in Kazumba and elsewhere has mostly ended, but it’s been a challenge for Christine and her friends to get back to where they were before the militias sent them fleeing for the bush. During the months in the bush, many families had their homes ransacked and they lost their livestock. Farmers weren’t able to tend to their crops, and schools and health centres were attacked.
“My greatest wish is that even though I don’t have a father anymore I can still study,” Christine said sadly. She explained, “I don’t go to school anymore. I would meet the militia members on my way to school. That’s why my parents thought it was better that I stop going.”
“I’m scared. I’m scared because we hear that the militias are starting again.”
World Vision has been responding to the crisis in the Kasais since August 2017 and has reached over 497,000 people to date, including 38,164 children working with 47 schools and creating 18 Child Friendly Spaces in Kasai and Kasai Central. Christine was one of 100 children recently interviewed by World Vision for the report, Will You Hear Us? 100 children in DRC tell their story.