In 2009, Ishmael and I had decided to informally adopt four boys from Eastern Congo. I was then living and working in a war-torn city called Goma in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ishmael had gone to visit me and meet the boys.
It was an unforgettable moment when I met the brave Sumaili, 17, who had fought in rebel and government forces for 5 years as a child soldier and was living- rather surviving in an abandoned orphanage. Sumaili introduced me to Juvenal, 16, who had been a maibobo (street child) since the age of six when the war took away his family from him, Valentin,10, Sumaili's little brother and Prince, 16, who had lost his mother to war and was witnessing his father's worsening health condition to AIDS. After meeting these four boys, it was clear to Ishmael and I that we would guide them, offering them advice and support to relocate them out of this abandoned orphanage to a proper home, to go back to school and regain some sense of childhood or whatever was left of their childhood.
For a few years, we managed to find them a decent home that we were first paying for but that they later managed to pay for themselves thanks to part time jobs I had found them in Goma. With the help of their part time jobs, school and a decent home, they were slowly regaining moments of childhood they had longed for all these years.
Maybe some of you have been to DR Congo, maybe some of you have read about Goma, or seen it in the news, documentaries, thus most of you should know that the Eastern part of DR Congo has been shattered by war for decades now.
When I moved back to New York, the boys continued their lives in Goma with major outbreaks of war from time to time that had found them exposed to risks of recruitment --or re-recruitment by armed groups in the case of Sumaili, killing and/or maiming.
With the fall of the city of Goma in the fall of 2013, Ishmael and I made the important decision together with the boys to evacuate them from DR Congo to Freetown, Sierra Leone. I was then living in the Central African Republic and Ishmael in New York but we managed to coordinate with them their evacuation to first, Kigali Rwanda then Kinshasa, the capital city of DR Congo where they finally got their Congolese passports which gave them the right to not only travel but simply exist in the eyes of their country. From Kinshasa, they flew to Bangui to stay with us for a month. They took English classes everyday in preparation for their move to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
In February 2013, they finally arrived in Freetown. Ishmael joined them on their journey and helped them settle in the city he loves so dearly. Ishmael enrolled them in a bilingual school and introduced them to acquaintances he trusted could guide and support them. For over a year now, they thrived both in school and in their personal lives, speaking fluent English, making friends and spending time by the ocean--they had never seen before.
While Goma became peaceful, things became dire again, but this time in Sierra Leone because of the Ebola outbreak and the boys expressed their desire to return to their country -- this time better 'armed' with passport, international or at least regional experience and their fluent English that can open many doors in a francophone city like Goma with big international organizations. Just as we had made the commitment in 2009 when we first met them and took them under our wings, we want to continue supporting them in the betterment of their lives and as we have sadly been witnessing the situation in Sierra Leone is worsening day after day, week after week and month after month. Schools are closed for an indeterminate period of time, most services have either slowed down or stopped and prices for practically everything have skyrocketed.
Prince has finished high school, he wants to become a lawyer and help his country, DR Congo. Juvenal would like to study Information Technology (Computing). Valentin who has been top of his class in Sierra Leone wants to pursue his education all the way to university as well -- which is very rare in countries where most youth seldom finish primary school, his older brother, Sumaili, the former child soldier, would like to return to Goma and pursue a training in computing.
This time, it is financially very complex for Ishmael and I to support them alone. Flights from Freetown to DR Congo are rare and because of the outbreak cost has risen sometimes between $3000-$5000 a ticket!
We thought that this time, we could maybe appeal to the generosity and solidarity of friends.
Anything that you can contribute to help us:
i) purchase them tickets to DR Congo
ii) continue school and their respective projects
iii) support them for the first year in Goma with accommodation until they find a part time job and continue on their own
will be HIGHLY appreciated not only by us but of course by Sumaili, Valentin, Prince and Juvenal.
Here is an approximate breakdown of cost:
Airline Tickets, Freetown-Kigali $3500 X 4=$14,000
Law School Tuition for Prince $450 for one year
School fees for Valentin$ 300 for one year
Fee for Sumaili Vocational Training $350 for the entire training
Fee for Juvenal IT training $350 for the entire training
Accommodation/Lodging per year $100X12=$1,200
Thank you for reading and please pass on to anyone you think can be of assistance.
Priscillia, Ishmael and the boys.
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