Travelling in DRC feels like leafing through an over-dimensional picture-book, with myriads of colours and shapes. Only studying the countless green-shades could take hours on end.
After a couple of days in Bukavu, Eastern DRC, I am back in the capital. Once again amazed by the size of the country (and frustrated by the logistical dispositive). "People here are more familiar with neighbouring Bujumbura than their own capital. They are Congolese but have never been in Kinshasa." That's a how a waiter in Bukavu tried to explain me DRC's geographic situation. Seeing that one-way trip Kinshasa-Bukavu took me 12 hours (3 transits, including one in Entebbe/Uganda) I somehow understand this.
The aim of this trip was to visit UNICEF child protection projects. One of them is the professional learning centre of the 'Fondation pour la Solidarite des Hommes' (FSH); a local NGO supported by UNICEF to provide marginalized youngsters with a window to autonomy. Boys become carpenters or mechanics, while girls learn how to tailor. But there are exceptions to the classic job choice. Mariam, 15 years is one of them. 'I always wanted to become a mechanic. There aren't many women who embrace this profession - I will be one of them;' she says with a big grin.
Since the centre opened in 1995, 1,500 youngsters between 14 and 17 years underwent apprenticeships; the training takes nine months plus three months of internship in a local shop. Out of 200 adolescents who start the training every year, 120 complete it. The high drop-out rate is related to various factors, including family pressure and the acute need of many youth to earn money to make a living. Adolescents who come to the centre comprise children formerly associated with armed forces or groups, former sex workers (83 in January 2011) and children without adequate family care. When I visited FSH last week the latter included two youth affected by HIV who lost their parents to the disease; they are part of the group, looking forward to a future as tailors and carpenters.