Tag Archives: africa

Laura Colgan – Sierra Leone – Mr Kamara

3 Dec

When we asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, some said Minister for Education, some said Minister for Disabilities, several said President, and many said that they wanted to grow up to be just like Mr Kamara.

On my recent and very first trip to Children in Crisis’ projects in Kambia, Sierra Leone, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Joseph Kamara, the founder of our local partner organisation WESOFOD. I accompanied Joseph on his visits to some of the communities that Children in Crisis and WESOFOD work in. There, we met some of the children we have supported, as well as those who still need support.

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Joseph Kamara, the founder of Children in Crisis’ partner organisation WESOFOD – a local NGO run by people with disabilities who advocate for the rights of the disabled and directly support children with disabilities.

Despite the lack of knowledge and understanding around disabilities in Kambia, it was incredible to see such a positive and welcoming reaction to Joseph’s arrival within these communities. For the children we met – many of them confined to their homes because the world beyond their (often high and challenging) doorstep is not adapted to their needs – I thought that it must be rare for them to see a person with disabilities being regarded in such high esteem.

It was at these moments that I felt truly proud to work for an organisation like Children in Crisis, that puts such great emphasis on working with local partners – and WESOFOD is a pretty special example of this. Joseph himself is living proof that people with disabilities in Sierra Leone CAN succeed and be a beacon for their communities, and he represents everything that WESOFOD is, with absolute determination and pride.

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Some of the children who are cared for by WESOFOD

When we spoke to the children who were soon to move into a new home and treatment centre, many told us about the multitudinous challenges faced by people with disabilities in Kambia, but that Joseph had given them hope. When we asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, some said Minister for Education, some said Minister for Disabilities, several said President, and many said that they wanted to grow up to be just like Mr Kamara.

Since returning to London, I am constantly reminded of my time with WESOFOD. When a London bus driver moves closer to the curb to allow a wheelchair user to disembark using the built-in ramp (there are many wonderful things about that sentence) I am immediately transported back to the remote communities of Kambia.

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Children with disabilities in rural Kambia are often confined to their homes, unable to travel on unpaved roads

I have become infinitely more aware of my surroundings in so many ways. I have realised that every inch of the land around me is produced, reinforced, maintained, and adapted so that it is that much more accessible (though certainly far from perfect). I was born into this world. I did not earn it or contribute to it, I am simply lucky. I have a whole new appreciation for my own mobility, and how something as seemingly simple as a flat pavement can mean a child’s safe route to school.

I think of Joseph often, and always with a smile. It is astounding how one man’s determination can bring so much hope, strength and ambition to so many others. Joseph has given Kambia reason to believe that what many once thought impossible, is most definitely possible.

Written by Laura Colgan – Corporate Fundraising Officer – Children in Crisis

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Robert Benham – Sierra Leone – ‘Inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase

3 Dec

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

Imagine having to move away from your family home, the village you have grown up in, because your community do not accept your child.

For children like Nouhou 'inclusion matters' is more than just a phrase - it is the key to a brighter future

For children like Nouhou ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase – it is the key to a brighter future

When Aminata gave birth to Nouhou, who has cerebral Palsy, she was told he was ‘evil’ and that she must throw him away. Aminata refused. She chose her son instead.

It is the discrimination and lack of understanding that Aminata and Nouhou faced that the International Day of Disabled Persons is trying to overcome. Based around the theme of ‘inclusion matters’, the day is focussing on the gains derived from integrating people with disabilities into society.

Sitting outside Nouhou and Aminata’s home, listening to her story, I can’t imagine how hard her decision must have been but, how she talks about her son, and the warm look in her eyes as she watches over him, I know that she still believes it was the correct one.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata - his protector.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata – his protector.

She has built a life for her son. Nouhou has grown into an inquisitive 6 year old. With the help of his sister, every day he walks to a nearby primary school and is starting to get the education that will enable him to live an active and inclusive life when he grows up.

Sat next to his mum, wearing his bright green uniform, Nouhou eyes us cautiously, slowly leaning in closer to his protector. Nouhou’s natural suspicion is understandable considering the battles he faces to be included in his world.

His father refuses to acknowledge him as one of his own because of his disability and children at his school provoke and agitate him. Even his community, whilst much more understanding than the one he was born into, do not fully accept him – just the Friday before the family was asked to leave the Mosque.

“It is always a challenge, but I have no choice, I will always support my child.”

During my time in Sierra Leone, the barriers facing children with disabilities were striking in their number. I witnessed an absence of understanding around disability, sometimes unsupportive families, schools and homes that are inaccessible to the disabled – all of which contributed to too many children with disabilities being destined to a life of marginalisation and isolation.

Despite the obstacles that children with disability face to be included in their community, every day I was encouraged by the progress I saw being made by Children in Crisis’ partner organisations such as WESOFOD – a local NGO run by a group of inspiring people with disabilities who advocate for the rights of the disabled and directly support children with disabilities – and by the impact small changes were making to the lives of children like Nouhou.

Sahid's mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

Sahid’s mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

As we were sat talking to Nouhou, we heard a familiar noise coming up the road, Sahid being accompanied home by his friends.

Sahid, who will be moving into the residential rehabilitation centre being constructed by Children in Crisis & WESOFOD, attends the same school as Nouhou and, unable to walk, gets around on a mobility aid.

This simple device is a great example of little things having a huge impact. It enables Sahid to go to school and to achieve an education. It has allowed him to interact with children his own age and to make friends, making sure that the next generation of children treat those with disabilities equally.

It is estimated that worldwide there are one billion people with disabilities, many of whom live on the periphery of their community, marginalised and discriminated against.

This year’s theme, ‘Inclusion matters’, is a strong phrase for an important International Day. It represents a vision of hope, empowerment and equality.

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

For these children ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase; it is the key to a brighter future, one where they have the opportunity to live life on their terms.

Written by: Robert Benham, Trust Fundraising Assistant, Children in Crisis

Koy – Sierra Leone – John the Shoe Maker

3 Apr

Koy Thomson, CEO of Children in Crisis, recently travelled to Kambia, Sierra Leone. He was there to attend the launch of Children in Crisis’ report  hilighting the reality faced by disabled children in the country. Below is one of the blogs written by Koy during his visit, published now that he has access to an internet connection. 

“I believe in unity and helping people with disability to come off the street. You have to come together, you cannot do things alone. You need help”

I am sitting in John’s shoe workshop, a small shack hanging with shoe soles like bats hanging from the rafters. A billboard promoting condom use with a grinning ‘Mr. Condom’ towers over his shack, and I can’t decide when asking to photograph him whether this is vital local context, or an undignified distraction.  I decide on the former and don’t censor it out.

John the Shoe Maker and his sons

John the Shoe Maker and his sons

John has an embracing smile. His face has a seriousness which reflects a life of hardship and struggle, but he has clearly come out the other end determined to think well about himself and about life. He is proud of his sons who he supports through school by fixing shoes. Every time I try and talk to him a queue of customers backs up. He is obviously highly regarded.

John was abandoned by his father. He had no option but to street beg. That he was wearing flip flops on his hands to drag his body and legs behind him, did not stop him fighting and becoming the leader of a street gang.

When he was older a charity found him and gave him an operation to straighten his limbs. At the centre where they made disability appliances he saw disabled people working for the first time. The charity trained him in shoe making and gave him some basic tools to set up. When the war came he lost everything and fled to Guinea. Luckily he was later reunited with his wife.

Slowly he rebuilt his business. I asked him what he felt when he saw other disabled people street begging “I did not feel fine. I tried to help them and persuade them to come off the street”.

Joseph the head of Wesofod [Wesofod are one of Children in Crisis’ partner organisations in Sierra Leone] met him at his workshop. John immediately wanted to help. In Wesofod John saw a much better way to help other disabled people: “I believe in unity and helping people with disability to come off the street. You have to come together, you cannot do things alone. You need help”. This passion to help others in his situation deeply impressed me.

John the Shoe Maker

John the Shoe Maker

I told John that he seemed very strong inside, was it this that helped him to keep pushing for a better future “do you think others on the street have this determination?” John admitted that some “simply wanted fast money and it would be a big job to change them. I too will have to continue struggling. I earn enough to put my children through primary school but not secondary school. To improve my business I will need to improve my equipment. If I can get a machine for making lasts, I can make my own Sierra Leonean shoes, not just mend foreign ones”.

John regularly volunteers time to support Wesofod. Judging from the queue of customers and his desperate desire to give his children Pero and Umaro a decent education, this was no small sacrifice.

Shoe-making

Shoe-making

WESOFOD are one of Children in Crisis’ local partner organisations in Sierra Leone. Read more about our work.

Amy Parker – New Horizons

7 Feb

…the years and years of people telling them that they are “not able, not worth it and can’t” have left a people unable to see what on earth they have to offer to, and how they fit into today’s Burundian society. 

Amy Parker, Children in Crisis Programme Manager, reports on her recent meetings with the Batwa community of Burundi. Isolated and ostracised in one of the world’s poorest countries, Children in Crisis are committed to working with the Batwa community and finding solutions to the distressing levels of illiteracy and child mortality that they suffer.

Batwa Mother and Baby outside their house, Gasorwe, Burundi

Batwa Mother and Baby outside their house, Gasorwe, Burundi

New Horizons…

The stunning drive through the winding hills of Burundi is a stark contrast to the rugged and vast space that is the Plateau region of eastern DR Congo. Burundi shares its border with eastern DR Congo, and having worked on Children in Crisis’ education programme in DR Congo for the last year, I was intrigued to find out what Burundi had in store for me as we drove up to Muyinga Province in the far north east of the country. I was accompanied by Ruben Ruganza from Famille Maintenant (FAMA) – Family Now, a local organisation working in the area.


That first visit in February 2012 was an initial trip between FAMA and Children in Crisis to explore the possibility of working together to build on the work FAMA had been doing with the Batwa community since 2006. The Batwa (sometimes known as pygmies, although this is a pejorative term) are the first inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa. Traditionally hunter-gatherers and potters, they were nomads who lived off and in harmony with the vast equatorial forest that once stretched from Cameroon in the west to Burundi in the east. Ngurizina Abraham, one of the elders of the Gasorwe Batwa community where FAMA work, said that in his grandfather and father’s generation when Burundi was still a kingdom, the Batwa made pots for kings and princesses; “everyone wanted them from top to bottom”.


Colonial and post-colonial times have wrought great changes in the region. Deforestation along with the creation of National Parks has resulted in the Batwa no longer able to live their nomadic life and being forced to settle. The problem, however, is that the Batwa have very little access to land, or no land at all in what is Africa’s second most densely populated country. Having little access to land and few agricultural skills, they are at odds in a country where over 90% of people live from subsistence farming. To make matters worse, their pottery, once so sought after, has been replaced by metal and plastic imported goods. As with many indigenous peoples the world over, the Batwa, so long discriminated against and regarded as inferior and ‘different’, find their exclusion further compounded and deepened as time goes on, living on the periphery of Burundian society, with little knowledge of or access to basic services and their human rights.

Back in 2006, not a single Batwa child from Gasorwe Commune was in school. Six years later, over 150 are now enrolled and attend primary school thanks to FAMA’s interventions; a tip of the iceberg, but a big step in the right direction. 40 families have benefitted from improved houses and there is talk in the community of wanting to learn skills, sending more children to school and parents being able to provide enough food, shelter and care for their families.

Batwa Children

Batwa Children

A second visit in November 2012, this time with John Norton from Development Workshop France, Francois Karake, a specialist in community-based action, alongside FAMA and Children in Crisis gave us more time with the local communities in Gasorwe. What became progressively more apparent was the ingrained ‘can’t do’ attitude regarding the Batwa, present at all levels of society, from district and commune officials, education staff to the Batwa themselves. Most worrying were Batwa women and men’s responses when asked about what their culture was, what stories and music and traditions such as medicines and dancing and pottery they regarded as important today. The unanimous reply was “nothing. We need to be modern”. This loss of identity and self-worth is perhaps the crux of the problem. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will? And the years and years of people telling them that they are “not able, not worth it and can’t” have left a people unable to see what on earth they have to offer to, and how they fit into today’s Burundian society.

So what next? Well, Children in Crisis is looking at how best to work with the Batwa community in Muyinga. We are drawing on technical expertise from Development Workshop France who have for years worked in west and southern Africa as well as Asia on improved construction methods and vocational skills training with remote and vulnerable communities. We are also exploring links with Dutabarane, a local Burundian organisation who work in other areas of the country on a very successful Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) programme targeting the poorest members of society to better manage their household finances through regular saving and access to small credits – a way to deal not only with daily expenses but also those larger expenses such as school fees, medical costs and home improvements without getting into debt or relying on handouts.

VSLAs - Gatumba, Burundi

VSLAs – Gatumba, Burundi

Whilst still one of the poorest countries in the world, Burundi is developing. A member of the East African Community, she is in a club of more developed countries like Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. Technology is moving fast and seeing fibre optic cable being laid 50 metres from a Batwa community where no-one can read and write and where more than half of children die before their 5th birthday is both peculiar and scandalous. The Batwa will find themselves falling further and further behind; and we at Children in Crisis along with other organisations wanting and willing to work with these first peoples of Africa are committed to finding solutions with the Batwa community to pave the way to a brighter future.

If you’re interested in Children in Crisis’ work with the Batwa community of Burundi please contact Children in Crisis on 020 7627 1040 / info@childrenincrisis.org

We push for justice in the DR Congo

17 May

“Were the lives of our dear colleagues and the three other passengers that perished with them really worth so little? It is almost unthinkable.”

 – Sarah Rowse – Director of Programmes.

In October 2011, in one of the worst attacks against humanitarian workers in eastern DR Congo, four members of our local partner NGO Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI) were murdered as they travelled up to schools on the remote Plateau. Here our Director of Programmes, Sarah Rowse writes about her recent visit to Kinshasa, and Children in Crisis’ pursuit of justice for our dear friends and colleagues.

I travelled to Kinshasa, the capital city of Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), at the end of March with our partners from EMI, Reverend Muvunyi Samson and Dr Lazare Sebiterereko. Although I’ve worked and travelled extensively in eastern DR Congo since 2005, it was my first time to the capital city and as far removed from the rural isolation and savage beauty of eastern Congo as one could imagine.

Our visit was laden with import. Since the brutal murders of our much missed colleagues, Eraste, Tite, Musore and Edmond as they travelled en route to the Plateau to conduct programme activities in schools and communities last October, there has been no enquiry into their murders – no attempt by the Congolese authorities to gather evidence.  Six months after one of the worst attacks against humanitarian workers in the history of eastern DR Congo, and nothing. Were the lives of our dear colleagues and the three other passengers that perished with them really worth so little? It is almost unthinkable.

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The goal of our trip was to push for an independent investigation to take place in relation to the October 2011 massacre of our colleagues, and in doing so, meet with embassies, UN agencies, NGOs and donors to seek their backing and support in our pursuit for justice.

Former Vice President Azarius Ruberwa, who was part of a delegation from Kinshasa that attended the memorial ceremony for our colleagues in October, had organised high level meetings with the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, the Military Prosecutor, the European Union, US Embassy, and others. Another Senator Maitre Moise, a lawyer was on hand throughout the week to help Children in Crisis and EMI in presenting the case to the judicial authorities.

We met with the UN Secretary General’s special representative Leila Zerrougi (head of MONUSCO, the UN stabilisation force), and was encouraged by the news that she is pushing hard on the criminal case. Following our meeting with him in Kinshasa, the Attorney General has also instructed the general prosecutor to open a civil case.

This is all encouraging. It is evidence that, no matter how slowly, action is being taken into our colleagues’ murders, but we know that there is a long way to go to seek justice in a country where crimes go unpunished and perpetrators of violent acts enjoy an unparalleled level of impunity.

When I first interviewed for the job at Children in Crisis back in 2004 I was asked the question, ‘justice or democracy?’ My answer at the time was that if one can’t have both, then justice is paramount. Never have I felt such commitment to my response as I boarded the plane on return from Kinshasa six-weeks ago.

We have a tough road ahead of us but will continue to push in honour of our colleagues. Peace and reconciliation in DR Congo can only be built on a foundation of justice and respect for human rights.

On behalf of Children in Crisis, EMI and the families and communities with whom we work in DR Congo, I remain enormously grateful for the kindness and support of Children in Crisis’s friends and supporters during what has been an immensely difficult time. We will keep you updated.