The Augustinians in the World Foundation, in collaboration with the OTB Foundation, has just announced plans to strengthen the JUVENAT Residential Centre in the city of Dungu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo
This is, as outlined in their latest press release, "a project aimed at retrieving former child soldiers and other marginalised young people and helping them to socially and economically reintegrate [back into society].”
The JUVENAT programme, initiated in 2020 through a collaboration between the Augustinians in the World Foundation and the Augustinian missionaries in the Congo (now joined by the OTB Foundation), each year supports 450 boys and girls forced to participate in the armed conflicts that devastate the region. Thanks to this joint work, the first part of the project was able to establish a residential centre for the children and training workshops for the young people in the area.
It is hoped that this latest economic boost from the OTB Foundation will enhance the children’s education and provide them with the tools necessary to learn trades such as computer programming, carpentry, tailoring, and mixed farming. It is estimated that thanks to this new investment in the JUVENAT programme, the centre will be able to support 200 more young people each year, increasing the number of beneficiaries of the programme by around 50%, to a total of 650 boys and girls.
The Congo, war and the exploitation of children in armed conflicts
OTB FOUNDATION has always been sensitive to violence directed against women and children at time of conflict, and has decided to support in a concrete way the very delicate issue of child soldiers. This phenomenon affects children who are abducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo at a very young age - there are even cases of children enlisted between the ages of 4 and 5 - who are beaten, tortured and forced to kill by members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a terrorist group active throughout Africa and which commits the most heinous crimes.
But what exactly is the LRA? The Lord's Resistance Army - as its founder Joseph Kony referred to it - was born in the late 1980s to counter the seizing of power in Uganda by another rebel, current president Yoweri Museveni. The hallmark of the LRA was, from the very start, to mix religious mysticism, proven guerrilla techniques and bloodthirsty brutality. To this end, it encourages the abduction of boys and children to turn them into obedient fighters and of young women and girls to turn them into domestic and sexual slaves. According to the UN - in 30 years of activity throughout Africa - the LRA has killed more than 100,000 people and caused 2.5 million to flee their homes and lands.
In recent years, the local population of Dungu has too often been victim to incursions by the Resistance Army, which carries out massacres of innocent civilians, rapes and abductions of child soldiers in the region. An estimated 30,000 child soldiers have been recruited in this part of the country, and many are in the hands of various paramilitary groups. Most are between 8 and 15 years old, and 40% are girls.
JUVENAT: a fresh start after the horror of war
In the JUVENAT Project, which will be developed starting this month and rolling out over the next two years, the series of agro-pastoral workshops will be the most demanding, mainly because it is split into two workstreams: the transformation of agro-food products, and the production of charcoal briquettes. These are made to a recipe from plant waste for domestic use, and will replace firewood and kerosene, which are much more polluting and contribute to deforestation. Other activities have also already been launched, including beekeeping (the hives are built by carpenters from the Juvenat Centre), as well as more traditional skills such as raising pigs and cattle, and farming fish.
"In short, the JUVENAT Project programme consists of two services: training and production," explains Arianna Alessi, vice president of the OTB Foundation. "Thanks to the training service, about 200 additional young people, including many former child soldiers, will take part each year, starting from the second year of the project. Some of them will continue to work for the farm, in the various disciplines, and will in turn become trainers for the new cohort of beneficiaries. A school reintegration programme is also planned, thanks to agreements reached with the city's schools, with ambitions to increase the number of school places by 30%. Through the production service, an economic income will be guaranteed for the beneficiaries and an important contribution will be made to the sustainability of the entire centre.”