Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Confident Children Out of Conflict

Cathy's place is a small house along one of the dusty, sandy roads in Juba. We are greeted by a group of giggling girls, they are all curious to see who is visiting. Cathy steps out of the kitchen and greets us. We have managed to come during breakfast time and the girls are waiting anxiously for food. In the kitchen, two of her girls are helping out with the food, one is pouring hot milk into cups and the other one is washing dishes. They all smile shyly at us. Cathy takes us around, the place is not big. There is a living area where Cathy lives and a small kitchen outside, a small yard, an office and wash rooms.
Cathy started the project about two years ago. Her shelter is open for the street kids in Juba, street girls that by some reason cannot live with their families anymore.
- After the war, many families returned but life did not turn into what they expected. Some of them are disabelled, some of them alcoholics, some of the girls have lost both their parents. She points at the little girl in the kitchen. This little one lost her father yesterday, we went to church and had a small ceremony.
Cathy feeds the girls, she makes sure that they go to school, have school supplies, clothes. They wash their dirty clothes in Cathy's place, brush their teeth, get a shower but the place is too small to accommodate them all so during the night, they are forced back on the streets again. All girls are welcome, except for those involved in prostitution. The street boys are too tough to handle so Cathy only brings them food, that they cook for themselves, but to keep them in the shelter is too dangerous.
- Some of them are very violent, aggressive, she explains. They steal, they do drugs.
We walk around, sit in Cathy's office and listen to her project plan, outside the girls are chatting joyfully during breakfast. Afterwards we take some photos and the girls are all excited, hugging us, smiling, laughing at each others faces on the photos. I ask how old they are, there is one little girl that hangs on to me, she is seven. She is all smiles in a beautiful pink dress and another girl, tall for her age, but she is only nine. When she hugs me, Cathy looks at me over her head:
- This one has been molested, she says and my eyes fill up with tears. The girl smiles at me, I try to fight back the tears and smile back. Most of the girls have been molested, she continues. During the night time, they are unprotected and easy targets. There are many sick people on the streets and they know how to take advantage of these small girls.
After our photosession and good bye smiles, Cathy takes us to the place where the street boys hang out. It is a small street behind the work shops, dirty and dusty. The boys are sitting in a group, something is cooking on a small fire. We continue to a huge graveyard, which is also a big garbage dump. Somewhere between the huge piles of litter, small heads are sticking up.
- This is where the boys live. They live under the trees and find their food in the garbage dump.
We continue to another place, under a tree we can see another small group of street children, hiding in the shadow next to a small river. We move on, pass the graveyard and to an open field, also covered with litter. Small sheds mades out of bamboo, tin, paper, plastic. People walking, sitting, sleeping on the ground, small fires where someone tries to cook something they have found in the garbage. We visit a family that just have been food poisoned. The father is weak, he is resting inside a small shed, almost unable to speak. Next to him sits a small baby girl, she looks at us, stretches out one hand, doesn't say anything. Her face is covered with flies. Close to a stone wall, another member of the same family is hiding from the sun, she is ill, from the same food poisoning. Cathy talks to her for a bit. A small girl in a pink dress with flowers is running after us, smiling, takes my hand.
- You can take photos, Cathy says but I feel too embarrassed to document this misery, poverty, unhumanity. Most of my girls come from this place, Cathy explains. The parents are not able to take care of them.
We get into the car and driver back to Cathy's shelter where we drop her outside. She thanks us for coming and wishes us a safe trip back home.

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