Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Street girls in Kinshasa.

Well, I guess it will be one of the first time I have mixed my professionnal life (or wife, really) with my sketching affair. Being under enormous pressure to draw everyday by Danny Gregory and fellow Sketchbook Skool professors, and being busy with work during the few hours when I am actually awake, I jumped on every opportunity to sketch whilst working. Make sense?

Last week, I had the opportunity to start a research on factors that could improve the reintegration of girls living in the street of Kinshasa (for more details: www.fbaconsult.com), and I have been working with the team and girls of Centre Anuarite.

There are an estimate of around 10'000 girls (under 18) living in the streets of DRC's capital. Life in the street for girls often is synonymous with abuse, rape, prostitution and violence.
Not a great place to live in. Many have been kicked out of their house, being accused of whichcraft, because their parents left of died or because they were not welcomed by the new step-parent. Many  ran away from home, not feeling loved, not finding food or being beaten and abused. Whether they choose the street or did not have the choice, they are living a tough life. Friendship, security, protection is essential, fitting in with the street and its values, activities and priorities as well.
These girls are strong.
Along with other organizations, Centre Anuarite is working in creating bridges between the street society and the mainstream society, trying to get the girls out of the street. There are no quickies for that one. 
We worked on visualizing change, and setting up personnal goals in life. We asked the girls to represent how they see themselves in 10 years time. The youngest was 10, the oldest 16. 
They dream of becoming doctors, air-hostess, teachers, nurses, president, judge... Strong positions for strong women, very terribly far away from what reintegration programs push forward, realistically: learn functionnal skills, sell goods, train in coiffure-couture-cuisine, and get married. 
They need to dream. It is important that someone, somehow, shows them that they believe in them, and in the way they wish to see themselves, it is the first step to positive change: picture yourself. 

 Part of another exercise we did was to draw a body-map, a picture representing themselves, and their feelings (what hurts, what helps), doing so we want them to identify their strenghts and the obstacles they are facing. To be able to focus on their goal/ dream, and to identify the obstacle standing in between, along with their strenghts and people who can help and support is essential. 
Walking blind is not really helping to change. 
Art, drawing or doodeling to represent feelings and stories is an important tool to communicate. Generally adults are far more reluctants to do these exercises, whilst children just love it. There is a great reading for those who want to bring visual learning to the boardroom, it's The doodle Revolution by Sunny Brown. 
So, Centre Anuarite is a semi-open shelter for girls, were they can come and go or stay for a while. The social staff (nurses, psy, social workers etc.) also works six nights a week in the street.   
They go were girls are working at night, trying to give them some informations about drugs, protection, people who they can turn to, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. They also distribute condoms and provide some health support, through their ambulance. 
Going with them in some sites was a reality shock. I had the opportunity in my life to walk in many streets were children are living and are involved in commercial sex, but I had not yet witnessed such numbers. Those social workers are truely amazing and they deserve incredible respect. Their job is incredibly hard for it relates to the limits of their society, to personnal histories, to gender divide etc. I am always amazed meeting people who choose to work with the cast-away. 
I hope I will be able to do something positive for them. Really.
In a time where social and cultural spendings are going down worldwide, where budgets are thight, were military spendings increasing and the focus is to "save" the liberal economy without really adressing its shortfalls, the first people to feel the cuts are often the ones who are holding communities together and making sure we live in societies that are caring for those who are not "fitting", as if we all "naturally" fit in. I believe that our world is increasingly creating outcasts, and putting the responsibility of failure to conform on the individuals. In that way, artists, social workers, community activists are the first to go or to be seen as "unessentials". 
Strange world. 
And the situation of steet children is not sexy anymore, people have heard about it and we do not like to see things over and over again. Results are slow to come, projects are drafted for the short term, it often feels like fighting a lost battle. Yet there are people who devote their life trying to do good. 
What I have the honor of doing in Kinshasa is also happening down every street in the world, whether in Brussels, Toronto, New York, Rio, there is no places without its demons.  And there is no places were there are no one feeling they should do something, from volunteering for an organization, doing street art, helping out people they don't really know with small gestures or great commitments. 

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