Luanda (Agenzia Fides) - In Luanda, Angola, there are many children who sleep in the streets, in deserted houses or in parks, inhale gasoline to try to cope with hunger and to give themselves courage to survive on the streets. Thanks to a new initiative of the Salesian missionaries, for some of these young children a new life begins. The new St. Kizito home, a reception center that functions as a day and night center, children can wash themselves, eat, play and sleep. At the moment there are 600 children and young people, and every week more than 250 adolescents go to the center.
With its five million inhabitants and high crime rates Angola’s capital, Luanda, is regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous and expensive cities. The twenty-seven year civil war that ended in 2002 left over 40% of the population below the poverty line. Estimates put the number of street children in Luanda at around 5,000. The chances of any their dreams coming true often lies in the hands of the Salesian and Verbist priests and the centers they run. The war orphaned countless children. However not only war and aids-orphans live on the streets: the number also includes children who flee their homes because of alcoholism, domestic violence or extreme poverty leading to a lack of even the most basic means of survival. An additional problem children face is being charged with witchcraft. Seemingly absurd, these cases are both common and on the rise. When a tragedy – such as death, an illness or unemployment – befalls a family, the search for a guilty party with “evil forces” begins. Often the weakest in the family – old or young – is found guilty. At best they end up on the street; at worst, they are either maimed or murdered.
AIDS too is spreading, especially amongst children exploited for prostitution. Drugs are a universal problem, ranging from glue and petrol sniffing to alcohol abuse. During the day, young children and teenagers work as baggage porters, cleaners, and market square trade helpers; they wash cars, clean shoes, commit acts of larceny, or beg on the streets.
According to UNICEF about 30% of Angola’s children between the age of 5 and 14 are forced to work. “I worked, loaded cars; when I finished loading, the evening came, I sat on the streets and begged”, recounts one of the older boys. Now he wants to save those who have to live on the street, as he once did.
"Open your arms so that no one takes a step back" is the motto of this new center. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 12/11/2012)