What turmoil goes through a child’s mind when they wake up in the morning only to find their only hope gone? How do they face an uncertain and ruthless world without the guiding hand of the only person they have known from birth – their mother? And how much worse does it get when that child is a refugee?
Martin aged 16 and his sister Martha, 14 (not their real names) awoke to that reality four years ago and it still pains them when they discuss that fateful day. Their single mother Beatrice, with whom they had fled the war in Congo and had been living in Zambia, left unexpectedly without so much as a goodbye to search of better prospects in South Africa leaving them at the mercy of a neighbour. Pamela (not her real name) stepped in to offer a safe haven for the two but this didn’t last long. She would soon unleash terror on Martha and Martin.
First she pulled them out of school and would later use the children to do chores including selling alcohol. The extent of abuse would drive the two out of Pamela’s hands and into the streets of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. ‘It was a lot better than being beaten every day and going to bed in an empty stomach,’ says Martin looking pensively at his sister who nods in agreement. She flinches when she recalls the many days and nights when she endured physical and verbal abuse meted on her by male customers at Pamela’s bar.
The siblings currently reside at Makeni Refugee Transit Centre after being rescued by staff of AAH Zambia’s community health sector. Martin narrates gleefully about that memorable day. AAH officers had been tipped of the dire conditions in which the two were living through the children’s welfare service.
The community health sector is part of the Urban Refugee Project in Lusaka that AAH Zambia is implementing with funding from UNHCR and supports Makeni Refugee Transit Centre. At any one time, the Centre holds an about 60 Persons of Concern (including children) mainly refugees and asylum seekers from different countries affected by war.
For now, Martin and Martha are comfortable and are having their basic needs met at Makeni. They have since gone back to school but the long to be reunited with their mother in South Africa. AAH Zambia is working with the relevant government department to make this a reality.
Written by Susan Shanzi, Social Counsellor, AAH Zambia