Over the past few days, I have been in the Central African Republic assisting with UNICEF’s communication efforts. Sectarian violence continues and threatens the security of its people, including its children. Many children now live in internally displaced persons camps. I have met several with terrible, debilitating injuries.
Amina — about 8 years old — was shot in the upper thigh during an attack on her home village, located hundreds of kilometres away from the capital, Bangui, where she was brought for treatment. Her mother and father were both killed in the attack. She lives with extended family that have taken her in, but they are also in a desperate situation. They are cut off in a precarious neighbourhood in Bangui, surrounded by men who vow to hack them all to death if they don’t leave the country. Yet Amina can’t even walk without the help of some small plastic crutches. Over the past weekend, 38 people were injured and 3 people killed in attacks against two neighbourhoods in Bangui; one of them was Amina’s. The raw scar on Amina’s thigh is about one and half inches long and isn’t pretty. She knows how truly important and urgent it is for her to learn how to walk again.
Sara is 11 years old and lives in an internally displaced persons’ site, along with thousands of others who had to flee attacks on their villages and neighbourhoods. Her mom and dad try to make ends meet doing any menial task they can, including selling splinters of wood for cooking fires. Sara knows how bad their situation is and helps out every morning by sweeping around their small makeshift home, thrown together under an abandoned plane with old sheets. Then she collects wood and tends a small fire for her aunt to cook coffee to sell to other displaced persons at the site. She washes the family’s clothes in a plastic bucket and cares for her baby sister. She’s a serious girl and doesn’t have time to play. Sara just wants to go back to school to learn so that one day she can be a police-woman, “So I can protect my mom and dad.”
Samuel is 12 years old and when I met him at the Boy-Rabe internally displaced persons site in Bangui, he was being pushed around the dirt compound by his friends in his wheelchair. He can no longer run and play football with the other boys, but he remains cheerful. Samuel was severely injured in a grenade attack and both of his legs have been amputated well above the knee – yet another innocent victim of the senseless violence plaguing the Central African Republic. Samuel is a popular kid. The day we met, it was the ‘mid-term’ celebration for the 3-month long temporary learning space session conducted by UNICEF and local partners for displaced and surrounding community children at Boy-Rabe. Samuel and another 1,600 children participate in morning and afternoon classes held in large, UNICEF-supplied tents. Singing, dancing, sports and art for peace were the focus of the mid-term celebrations. Samuel was loudly cheered when he participated in the singing and dancing.
Amina, Sara and Samuel are just three of the many children in the Central African Republic I’ve met over the past few days. In spite of all the insecurity, uncertainty and challenges they face every moment of every day, they aspire for normalcy and better lives.
UNICEF is working hard in the Central African Republic with other UN agencies, humanitarian partners and the interim government in the areas of health, nutrition, education, child protection, water and sanitation for all the affected children. There’s still a lot of work to be done: Amina, Sara and Samuel (names changed) are just three of the 2.3 million children whose lives have been affected by the ongoing crisis and conflict in their country.