After a weekend in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I traveled to see a Save the Children program in Mbuji Mayi, a city about 600 miles into the interior of the country. On my way to the office, I was amazed by the number of diamond trading outlets along the main streets. Diamond mining is big business but the people who mine them—oftentimes children—receive very little pay in exchange for the gems that people will pay thousands for around the world.
The diamond business is a glaring contrast to the widespread poverty most families face in the DRC. The majority of the population lack access to basic services, with more than half of the population living on less than a dollar a day. In addition, relentless conflict has nearly destroyed the country’s infrastructure and economy in the east. The existence of rich natural resources in
Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is as busy a place as any in the world. There are swarms of people, crowded streets and traffic jams. The streets of Kinshasa are always bustling—but for a child growing up on the streets, it is one of the toughest places I have seen for anything resembling a happy childhood. So Save the Children is working in Kinshasa to strengthen family and community networks to prevent family separation caused when families are too poor to support their kids and provide assistance to children in need.
When I traveled to DRC earlier this month I met Exancé, a 13 year-old boy who calls the Kinshasa streets home. Exancé had been expelled from his family when his parent’s marriage failed—not an uncommon occurrence. The break-up of his family led him to a secluded courtyard by a city marketplace, where he begged for food from traders or money from passing motorists. He was hungry, withdrawn and so far removed from the life that a 13 year-old should have. But thanks to a local merchant who volunteers for Save the Children to identify at-risk street children, was placed in a safe place to live—a transitional center run by a local partner—and have a chance to reclaim some of the sense of childhood that he lost. Best of all, the world to try to reconnect him to his parents would begin.
Exancé is one of the lucky ones, and safe accommodation may make all the difference. At one such residential center for young boys, Centre BanayaPoverda, I met Gabriel—a 15 year-old whose story is very much a parallel to Exancé’s. When his father remarried after the death of his mother, he was beaten and kicked out of the house with no other option than to join the