In Defense of the Rights of the Runaway Children of Abidjan
Living with the Foyer Akwaba family helps boys and girls change the way in which they relate with others and prepares them to return to their original families
—Psshh, psshh…hey, hey, kid…Do you want to earn some money?
The boy looks like the young man who speaks to him, handled with the style of a bundle of greasy tickets that begin to show from the pocket of his pants. His eyes light up. The attraction of money for a young boy that is barely 10 years old is irresistible.
—What do I have to do?
—Nothing…its very easy, bring me two cellphones.
The boy has already done it many times. It is a simple thing. It revolves around going to the crowds of the plateau (the financial heart of Abidjan) and hunting on the fly for an absorbed person, one lost in thought, passing by and speaking without worry and in a carefree manner…and then running between the mass of people until you lose him. The boy had already looked for the poor soul today. He can sniff, calmly, like other boys that know how to find food to eat…it feels good and it feels powerful. It has money. Already he doesn´t agree that the day before yesterday was not as easy and he had to go to Cocody—Riviera, the area of the rich people of Abidjan and hint at a wealthy man who brought him to a small hotel, and in a bedroom, with a great deal of fright, blackmailing him with the threat of reporting him, in exchange for money, part of which also comes from stopping the hands of an older boy on the street.
Not now, with the fresh money in his pocket, remembering the times that he felt alone and even cried because he missed his mother. This is life now. He is one of the thousands of runaway children of Abidjan.
Stories like this shape the life of boys and girls between eight and sixteen years old who come to the Foyer Akwaba. For the majority, it was a Friday night, while they were sleeping on a bar table or street table, when a Brother approached them with an offer to leave the street. Many accepted the offer in order to spend the night inside or to try something else, but all were suspicious and distrustful…
—Can I go whenever I want? They always ask.
—Yes, yes. You come to the home because you want and can go when you want to. The door is always open. (It only closes at certain moments, in order to avoid older boys who follow in the street from entering and bothering the younger ones to use them for their misdeeds).
Living in Akwaba
From here, for these boys and girls a new horizon is opened, a plane of hope, whose final objective is to return them with their families. All are boys and girls that know that in the first 8 days of their stay in the home, they should tell the teachers where their family is. If they do not do it they should leave the house. It seems very hard, but besides being essential for the family reintegration, it is a demand by the law of the Marfil Coast.
The road is not easy: accustomed again to living with a schedule, to having responsibilites, and to relating with others are aspects of one´s character that seriously deteriorate in the runaway children. Due to this, each boy and girl that enters the home joins a group according to his age. He lieves with them in the same ¨house¨ and is responsible for cleaning, sharing house chores, and carrying out small jobs in order to survive without violating the law.
Additionally, he is invited, according to his level of studies, to begin work in the school, to reincorporate himself in courses that he had abandoned or to learn a trade/vocational skill (due to this, there are established agreements with workshop in the local neighborhood where the Foyer Akwaba is located). In cases with a greater delay in studies, the learning is initiated from the start, from a course on basic language and letters.
The experience of the reinsertion into formal school is very hard for the boys and girls, but it has demonstrated itself essential in their reformation as people. When a boy or girl from the home joins the school, the other children and the teacher watch him with suspicion…he has to earn their respect. The majority of the boys and girls, with the support of the teachers of Foyer Akwaba, achieve it and when they have succeeded they feel—all in reality—like new people; their childhood has been returned to them.
Without a doubt, the life in the Foyer Akwaba family, the personal attention of the teachers to each boy and girl, and the recreational activities, sports, etc. are going to change the way the children relate with others and prepare them for the return to their families. The home creates a climate of friendship and mutual confidence that makes the boys and girls feel loved.
And all of this, What flourishes?
The Akwaba home can host up to 70 runaway children at one time.
The team attends each year to 900 children, to which it offers basic services; and to some 100 children who engage in training and reformation processes.
An average of 14 children are reintegrated every 3 months definitively into their families. Without a doubt there are some isolated cases of those who abandon their families again.
The Akwaba home hosts also a small group of children that come from other countries of the región: from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria.
The Akwaba home opens it services to children of impoverished families from the neighborhood, that find themselves in great risk of ending up in the street, prostitution networks, or forced child labor.