Faced with an influx of refugees from Katanga Province into the Kasai area in 1992, some people from Kananga began to take in the children who had lost their families in the chaos. The intention was to provide those children with temporary shelter, food, medical care, clothing, etc. and to look for relatives to enable their family reunification.
But soon a further disruption of society in the Congo caused an influx of other marginalized people – especially neglected children – who had not fled Katanga. This led to the development of a more structured shelter. Mpokolo wa Muoyo is a transit center that at its inception could count on the moral et logistical support of the local branch of the Scheut Mission Congregation. In 1996, the center was recognized as a non-profit organization by the Congolese government.
The center’s years of actual experience show that there are many forms of neglect to which homeless children are subjected:
In 2013, the center was challenged by a new phenomenon: children were kidnapped and abused by crime syndicates to go stealing in the capital Kinshasa. Like a true Child Focus, the center managed to retrieve many children.
Starting in August 2016, it took in many children who had been released from prison in consultation with the Kananga Children’s Tribunal, after being indiscriminately picked up by the army in the context of a bloody riot in the province of Central Kasai. Those riots have also caused a lot of fleeing families and single children to end up at the center since then.
The reception of all these children from different backgrounds shows that Mpokolo wa Muoyo does not limit itself to accepting children from specific target groups. Without any conditions, the center responds positively to all new emergencies that affect children.
In the period from 1992 to 2016, the occupancy rate at the center per day was 45 to 85 people, including 80-90% children. This equates to approximately 500 homeless people finding shelter and protection at the center each year. As a result of the bloody insurgency in the Kasai area, in 2017 the center sheltered more than 830 people with a daily occupancy rate of 100 people on average, including 80 children.
The welcoming and reception at Mpokolo wa Muoyo is done by ten house fathers and house mothers from Kananga. They take care of the kitchen, purchases, laundry, hygiene, maintenance of the center, medical care, administration and bookkeeping. Much time is spent listening attentively to the life stories of the people. This is an important condition for offering a sustainable solution. The two social assistants’ main task is to contact family members to prepare for the guests’ return, anywhere in Congo. They each have a motorcycle and a cell phone to operate on land.
After a stay of several weeks to several months at the center and the necessary orientation work, our guests are guided to make a new start in their lives and build their future with family members found again. A lasting solution to the problem of child neglect and marginalization is thus sought in their own families. Because growing up in family offers the most natural and balanced upbringing that is more sustainable than, say, a well-organized but artificial life in an orphanage. Hence “Mpokolo wa Muoyo” is a good choice of name, for it means “Source of Life,” springboard to a new life.
The center Mpokolo wa Muoyo is a stronghold in the area. This is unfortunately evidenced by its success and by the fact that the government, the state prison, the children’s court, the parishes, the market women and the older street youth are only too happy to refer children to the center. Furthermore, there are good contacts with all the relevant religious communities, including Muslim ones, and with humanitarian agencies that may or may not have recently settled in Kananga. UNICEF has had good relations with Mpokolo wa Muoyo for many years. The UNO peacekeeping force accepts children from the center on its flights to Lubumbashi and Kinshasa where the children concerned are entrusted to their families. The medical care of the war wounded who end up in Mpokolo wa Muoyo is borne by Belgian Doctors Without Borders and the center provides meals for the lone sick in the hands of Doctors Without Borders. The International Red Cross also helps in certain cases. All these organizations see the center as an important partner.
Mpokolo wa Muoyo also works closely with other local centers that care about the fate of neglected youth, both in Kananga and in the cities of Mbujimayi, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.
The specificity of the center Mpokolo wa Muoyo is that it takes in homeless people – both children and adults – who want to get away from their life on the streets indiscriminately with the intention of returning them to their families. Many shelters in Congo limit themselves to a particular target group: only small children or only young people seeking formation, or only girls or only boys, or elderly or disabled or AIDS patients, etc. And usually those centers are based on a boarding school and education. The uniqueness of Mpokolo wa Muoyo is that it accepts homeless people of any age, with any disability. Also that it entrusts responsibility for the person’s future – such as education for the child – to the family and local community. In this way, restored family ties ensure that the homeless do not remain permanently dependent on begging or stealing on the streets, or on a shelter for survival. In this sense, the operation of Mpokolo wa Muoyo is unique in Congo.
Until now, the shelter has managed to cope financially through thrifty management and mainly with financial donations from abroad, especially from people of goodwill in Belgium and the Netherlands. But for several years this has been insufficient, as the estimated cost of the total operation of the reception center on the basis of a stay of 100 people per day amounts to about 160,000 € per year.
There are also certain necessary improvements to be made to the operation of the center, but they cannot be implemented at present because the costs are too high.
These dreams require Mpokolo wa Muoyo to look out for a more solvent and broader financial base. Therefore, sympathizers in Belgium were asked to form a support group. The de facto association Mpokolo-Congo is the result, which may be seen in its statutes (see the statutes on this website).
Mpokolo wa Muoyo has proven itself for 25 years.
It can be a model for very close and sustainable assistance to fragile people in impoverished regions, anywhere in the world.
Therefore, the center is more than a shelter. It is a source of new life for children and adults who are considered “lost, abandoned and written off people” but who recover thanks to renewed family ties.