The lives of children living in the street in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, make me think back to the potential revealed by children in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a group called “Tapori,” the DR Congo children I know are true reconcilers: when two families are having tensions, the parents know they have to work things out because their children play together. They do activities that mean everyone in a family is welcome. So for holidays parents make efforts to get along together in order to organize any type of party or ceremony for the children. In getting together for the good of all the children, parents reestablish peace among themselves.
These children are also the promoters of development projects that succeed in changing how the community looks at the people most in poverty. For example, Emile lived with his family a small mud house. Nobody dared to visit him. The neglect, contempt and exclusion of his community had gone beyond measure. Some called him a “witch” because he was poor. He was alone, had no one to talk to and no one approached him, so he withdrew into himself. Yet with the children, hope and change became possible.
One day, after finishing a book-based session of activities, the children with their group leaders, decided to go do some manual work to help Emile’s family. The first day, they worked to flatten out the terrain. Some young people passing by were impressed and realized they should get involved, too. The next day, they’d rounded up a group of twenty peers. Soon after, parents started taking part. Everyone – whether mason, carpenter, joiner, school children, and young people – put their skills to the service of others; each offered what he could — physical strength, intelligence, material or financial resources — to help complete the project. Others decided to seek support from non-profit associations. And so with input from the whole community, the house was built!
Today these children, young people and adults are the members of the Association of the Friends of ATD Fourth World, some of whom are part of the “Families in Solidarity” group. The association operates from the principle of participation by everyone. Solidarity and fraternity are at the heart of all their actions, because those who are involved have themselves experienced how taking action together gets people on their feet and promotes change in the way society looks at those deepest in poverty. It was during one of the group’s training and evaluation sessions that Papa Émile recounted their journey together:
Before December 2009, no one wanted to talk to me, no one came near me. I began to consider myself a good-for-nothing in this world, a man half alive, half dead. I had lost all hope in life and sometimes I even felt guilty.
But after the start of our group “Families in Solidarity,” I saw a lot of change in my life. You honored me by agreeing to hold our monthly meetings at my home. You have accepted me as I am and let me speak out despite my difficulties, and you listen to me.
We comfort one another by sharing our moments of pain and joy. Thanks to you, I have found again the joy of living, even though I continue to be poor materially. From the respect you’ve shown me, other people have begun to talk to me and ask my opinion. Thanks to you, I’m regaining little by little my dignity. The children who once threw stones at my house no longer do so.
Actually, now many people call me, “Papa Emile.” What more could I ask for? Before I didn’t even have a place to lay my head, but through the efforts of the Tapori children, young people, facilitators, and all of you, I now live peacefully at my home.
Thanks to the children, I realized that the hope for change lies within our communities.
René Bagunda Muhindo, Ouagadougou, April 2015
(This post originally appeared in French on the blog Un Monde Autrement Vu)