GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo (January 14, 2013) — Georges* attends a drawing session. He is in a child-friendly space managed by UNICEF partner AVSI in Mugunga III, a site in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where several thousand internally displaced persons have found shelter.
“What I’ve experienced prevents me from sleeping,” he says, adding color to his black-pencil sketch. “Putting down on paper what I have seen takes the pictures out of my head.”
Since April 2012, fighting between the 23 of March Movement rebel group (M23) and the Congolese Army (FARDC) has forced families to flee their homes and seek refuge in makeshift shelters in and around North Kivu’s provincial capital city of Goma. Many children have experienced frightening scenes. Not every child can speak about the violence she or he has seen.
Twelve-year-old Sam’s family first fled Rugari in July to escape from the war, finding refuge in the Kanyaruchinya site for displaced persons. But, war broke out there in November, and the boy and his parents fled yet again, settling down in Mugunga.
“This is the man who came out of the forest,” he says, interpreting his drawing. “He was wearing a uniform and followed us, firing bullets.”
“He took this woman and stabbed her,” he adds.
UNICEF and AVSI have set up seven mobile child-friendly spaces to reach a maximum number of displaced children in displaced sites around Goma. An average of 2,500 boys and 3,000 girls per day are reached through the mobile and fixed child-friendly spaces.
During the drawing exercise, children are invited to draw their recent experiences to help them release the pressure and relieve the pain. Through the pictures, many girls describe the rape of close friends and neighbors who were doing their daily chores when they were attacked.
Fifteen-year-old Anna, who is from Rutshuru, north of Goma, depicts a scene involving her best schoolmate, who went to the forest for firewood. “On her way back, she met a man with a uniform who fired a bullet. She was frightened and threw away the wood,” Anna says. “He caught her, undressed her and took her,” she recalls.
“When I think about everything I have seen, I feel sad,” says Anna. “I remember the wonderful times we had before the war.”
“We have an urgent responsibility to protect children from violence,” says UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Barbara Bentein. “The child-friendly spaces aim to restore a sense of normalcy in the midst of turmoil. We aim to give these kids, who have seen the worst, a secure space to play and receive psychosocial support.”
“Many children can’t speak, but they can draw, and you’ll see in their drawings all they think about,” underlines Leesa Mulunga, AVSI Child Friendly Spaces Coordinator. “We do this exercise in order to understand how the child evolves and where he or she needs more support.”
UNICEF calls on all parties in the conflict to protect children’s rights to education, protection and well-being.
*Names have been changed to protect the children.