the street children of Luanda, faces of a country marred by inequality

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Homeless children in Luanda in 2007.

At the foot of the luxurious buildings and ultramodern towers in the center of Luanda, the ten-year-old shoe shiners are waiting for a client. Nearby, three teenagers wedge between a new 4×4 and a sports car to beg for a few coins at a red light. In addition, some improvised choreography in front of the employees of an oil company in the hope of being able to afford food.

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In the Angolan capital, street children usually gather in groups of five or six. During the day, they try to survive in the middle of the city’s saturated arteries. At night, they gather at roundabouts or sleep under bridges in this sprawling city of about 10 million inhabitants.

Despite the oil windfall, half the population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank

As these young wanderers remind us, Angola is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Despite the oil windfall – the country became Africa’s leading producer at the end of August, ahead of Nigeria – half the population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Blame it on an insufficiently diversified economy and a system of massive corruption that has allowed the embezzlement of billions of petrodollars for decades. All were magnified by the economic crisis that followed the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The police beat us”

In Luanda, one of the most expensive cities in the world, the serious danger of “two men” (“street kids” in Portuguese) speaks volumes about the notorious wealth of some neighborhoods. Islands of poverty develop between “compounds”, these safe areas where most expatriates live, and especially near the Marginal, this long boulevard lined with chic restaurants and palm trees along the Atlantic Ocean.

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Many street children come from the Sambizanga slum, north of the capital. In this maze of potholed alleys has stood since 1991 the Casa Magone, a haven of peace where groups of children can rest or play table football during the day. “Children live from begging or from the garbage they collect from landfills, some work in markets or wash cars, and many girls become prostitutes, explained Adejame de Freitas Cadette, director of this center which is placed in a building with ten rooms. Here, everyone can eat and be treated. »

Children at the Casa Magone shelter in the Sambizanga neighborhood of Luanda in August 2022.

Passing through the gates of Casa Magone does not guarantee you anything in the long term. “If he wants to leave the street world we offer a device to the child”, assured Adejame de Freitas Cadette, himself formerly “menino da rua”. This process includes several phases: the search for his family, then a possible reintegration into the home. Young people who want to join the profession can also follow the training course. The center offers courses to learn sewing, hairdressing, cooking…

“All the stories of these children are different, but they have the same suffering”, said Madalena Mendes, teacher for six years at Casa Magone. Moises, 15, left his mother’s house because he wanted to “help him financially”. So he looked for odd jobs on the streets. “But it was very difficult because the police chased us, beat us, he said. The big ones [les enfants plus âgés] we were robbed and forced to take drugs. I know people who died because they were hit by cars after they drank gasoline. I stayed on the street because I wanted to support my mom. »

Tuberculosis and malaria

Nucho, 10, is a young shoe shiner like you see dozens in the city center. He can’t go home “because of the neighbor, witch”, who says he is “a cursed child”. In Sambizanga or Palanca, east of Luanda, witchcraft has returned as a frequent cause of rejection of children. “If death or serious illness strikes the family before or after birth, we accuse the newborn of bringing bad luck”explains Joao Facatino, missionary and director of the Arnaldo-Janssen accommodation center (Cacaj), which opened its doors in 2003 in Palanca on land donated by the diocese and a British oil group.

In Sambizanga or Palanca, witchcraft returns as a frequent reason for rejecting children

“Sometimes we see abandoned children in front of our gate. Philosophically, one should always look for a cause of misery. believes Joao Facatino. Funded by companies, individuals and parishes, Cacaj currently has 65 former street children, aged 7 to 14. All follow the school curriculum. “When they arrive here, they suffer from diseases like tuberculosis or malaria, but also from wounds. There are also psychological problems, because sometimes they suffer from traumatic shocks, “ continued the missionary, who estimated the number of street children at 4,000 in Luanda. “Sometimes they are aggressive, have difficulty concentrating and accepting rules, said Ferdinand Castel, teacher. But as the months passed, they learned to live in a group again and to trust each other. »

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Some now have dreams in their heads. Fabio, 16, explained “Going crazy with street life” for nine months, ” because of the violence that reigns there and the poor living conditions”. After three years at the center, he wants to become a cook and is committed to knowledge “The best fish rice in all of Angola”. About Janilson, 14, after spending five years on the road with his brother and a group of about fifteen children, he continued to study and wanted to become an engineer in the oil field: “When I look at my country, I tell myself that it needs me and that I can participate in its development. »

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