Saturday, September 26, 2015 is a day to remember in the long history of the crisis in the Central African Republic.
That morning, the body of a young Muslim motorcycle taxi driver was found in town. He had been brutally murdered. That death triggered a new escalation of violence, another round in the vicious circle of killing, looting, and retribution. Innocent civilians were targeted and killed. Over 60 people died, among them a dozen children, and over 37,000 people fled to dozens of internally displaced persons sites that had been slowly downsizing over the previous months.
For Caroline*, a 35-year-old single mother, it meant, once more, being thrown on the streets with the children she takes care of – her own, along with orphans from the neighbourhood. “I told the children to run away, just run,” she recalls. “And I am so happy they did, because minutes later the men came and threw grenades in the house. It completely collapsed. We have nothing left.”
There is nothing left of the few things they had been able to gather. Caroline and the kids had only been in the house for less than a year, starting a life from scratch after being attacked and looted several times during the crisis. For now, they are staying with a relative in a crowded little house in another neighbourhood. “The older kids are so angry and shocked that they want to join an armed group,” she says. “I keep telling them it would not do any good. I hope they listen.”
In the Central African Republic, violence is said to be unpredictable. And it is.
Just the previous Saturday, hundreds of children were participating in a UNICEF “Run to School” race in the city centre. There was fun, there was music and dancing, and teachers and parents were celebrating what was supposed to be the start of the first normal school year in a very long time. Now, dozens of them have fled their homes, with just the clothes that they were wearing that day. Most schools have remained closed, and so many children are just sitting around in IDP camps, exposed to promiscuity, poor hygiene and abuse.
After months of relative peace in Bangui, children had gradually stopped “playing war.” They had begun to once again build little toy cars from tin cans and wood. Are they going to go back to making toy guns and knives? Are they going to mimic chopping off each other’s throats again?
Over two years of violence is a long time in a child’s life.
Violence, setbacks, broken hopes. These are all the reasons why it makes it so difficult in the Central African Republic. But these are also the reasons why we must not give up. Because Caroline deserves to raise her children in peace. She deserves to be able to send them to school. And she deserves to feel confident that her kids will not one day disappear and join an armed group.
Caroline and her children are the reason we are here.
Donaig Le Du is the Chief of Communications in UNICEF CAR.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.