Reaching the ‘hardest-to-reach’ children

Six months after her parents were murdered by sadistic rebels, 16-year-old Gloria tells the story as unemotionally as she can – but still ends in tears. 

She had been sent to fetch water while her family worked on their palm oil plantation in verdant, tropical Erengeti, in the “Grand Nord” of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On her way back, she saw “men raiding”. Creeping up, she had a clear view of the confrontation between a crowd of armed men and her mother and father.

“They put my father in the big saucepan we use to make the palm oil, and they boiled him alive,” she tells me. “Then they started cutting my mother’s head off. They took the head away, and we have only been able to bury her body.”

I sit speechless in the shade of a shelter in World Vision’s child-friendly space in Oicha town. The degree of inhumanity which this young teen describes is stunning. The fact that hundreds of children who share this refuge with Gloria have similar miseries to recount is appalling. Beyond the safe, protective fence, there are tens of thousands of children suffering without help, and that is a vast injustice.

 If we can’t reach children in the DRC, we can’t achieve our goals. 

The Global Sustainable Development Goals talk about reaching the “hardest-to-reach” people. If we can’t reach children in the DRC, we can’t achieve our goals. When World Vision speaks of a campaign against child violence, this is the kind of context where we will have the most work to do.

Nearly two million people are displaced in the DRC, and half of children under age five are malnourished. There are 40 armed groups fighting in the Grand Nord, with 12 million people vulnerable to endless spasms of violence. The rebels rape girls and force boys to fight for them. Brutality is considered normal. Punishment is rare.

This year, the humanitarian community asked for $690 million (USD) to tackle some of the worst problems in the country. We were given only a fifth of that. For generations, the world has been happy to exploit minerals, wood and metals from the former Zaire, but less keen to face up to the consequences of the trauma come as a result of these activities.

If the situation of the children and youth in the DRC is so depressing, where do you turn for hope? To the children and youth of the DRC!

Esperance is a 24-year-old bundle of energy who has devoted herself to organising younger people to fight sexual and gender-based violence. World Vision helped her to provide training and materials for the like-minded peers she gathered around her and formed into a group called “One Girl, One Leader”.

As each member in the group – female and male – takes turns to explain how they have campaigned to stop the abuse of girls and women in Beni town, they clearly show their love and respect for this amazing young woman. They are there because of the issue, but they are also there because of her: leadership is vital.

 “My dream is to see a society in which all women stand up and take their place, take on the responsibility to change this nation and refuse to be passive victims of violence,” Esperance told me.

“My dream is to see a society in which all women stand up and take their place, take on the responsibility to change this nation and refuse to be passive victims of violence,” Esperance told me.

My heart was broken by Gloria’s awful story and the thought of the hard road to recovery ahead for her. But, I was inspired by Esperance – whose name is French for “hope”. And I was pleased to meet her now, because in 10 years’ time she, and others like her, will be the leaders in providing credible hope for the world’s hardest-to-reach children.