Children Advocate for Change in Central African Republic
By Olga Tusala Katembo, ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps member in Central African Republic
Tapori Children’s Parliament
In Central African Republic, Tapori groups are called “Tapori Children’s Parliament” because they advocate for the rights of children living in the deepest poverty. Their activities focus in particular on access to education and health care, but also foster friendship among all children. Together the children speak out, challenging their community and society at large about the suffering so many children endure.
The Children’s Parliament members come from very divers backgrounds. Some live on the streets. Others are with their families, but also live in extreme poverty. However, there are also members from families that are better-off. Enthusiastic about befriending children who have no friends, they are all harbingers of hope and peace.
One family’s struggle to survive
Thirteen year old Christopher is part of the Children’s Parliament. In a deeply impoverished neighbourhood of Bangui, he lives with his grandmother Monica and seven of her children. Frequent floods increase the risk of malaria and infectious diseases in an area that lacks electricity and safe drinking water.
Like many residents, Monica lost everything in the March 2013 Battle of Bangui. The war took her husband, her house, and all she owned. Fearing retaliation, Monica even gave up her plot of land to the attackers.
In order to feed her family, Christopher’s grandmother started a small vegetable stand at a modest roadside market. Her four oldest children run a motorcycle taxi service to help support the family. But every day much of what they earn goes to the motorcycle owner. Every weekend the owner has them do maintenance on the motorcycle.
Yet this added support allowed Monica to enrol her grandson in school. Christopher was able to attend for two years. But the situation in the country began to deteriorate and the family’s income plummeted. So Christopher had to stop going to school.
About this time, a “social-cultural mediator” named Géminéa introduced Christopher to the Tapori Children’s Parliament. Right away Christopher wanted to join the group and get involved in different activities.
School and health care both out of reach
Then Christopher got sick and needed surgery. His grandmother talked it over with the family. But the cost of the surgery was far beyond what they could afford. Christopher began to lose weight and soon couldn’t keep up with his friends in the Tapori group. Worried, the children told the group leaders they wanted to find some way to help. When they visited Monica, she told them:
- “It breaks my heart to see the neighbourhood children going to school while Christopher is all alone. When you invited him to join the Tapori Children’s Parliament, I was so happy because he had a place to flourish. But now I’m so worried about getting him well again and back to school.”
- Advocating for their friend
After this, the Tapori group organised two events for the Day of the African Child. Held at the school, the first event’s theme was “Say no to discrimination in education”.
Attended by 250 students and eight teachers, it was a big success. At the event, the Tapori group managed to talk to the school director about Christopher’s situation. Touched by the children’s initiative, she promised to enrol Christopher in the school, where some other students also live in extreme poverty.
The second event was held at a pediatric clinic. Tapori children, the clinic head physician, and some of the health care staff discussed the topic “Health for all”. The Tapori group got journalists to cover the event where they addressed health care access for children living in the deepest poverty.
- Praising the group for their work, the head physician agreed that health care is a critical issue. Especially important, he said, is ensuring that every child has a place to live and a birth certificate. Without these, all doors of opportunity will remain closed.
At the event, the Tapori children told the head physician about Christopher’s situation. He promised that the clinic would perform Christopher’s operation.
At the mercy of arbitrary decisions
However, there would be a wait of several months preparation while the doctor traveled abroad. Before leaving, the head physician left instructions for the operation. Christopher’s family gathered all the required documents. But then, misunderstandings arose about covering the cost. Naturally, Monica was extremely worried. Throughout all the family’s uncertainty and anxiety, the Tapori group was there with them providing support. When the physician returned, he stepped in and the operation finally took place.
Today, Christopher can stand. He has returned to school and is still involved in Tapori activities. Yet this group of children knows well that around the world many other families suffer the same anxious waiting that Christopher’s family endured. Often refused any help at all, they are powerless, at the mercy of someone’s arbitrary decision. The Tapori group remains determined to stand strong together so that all this will change.