For several decades, Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has seen a growing population of homeless children, the result of economic crises and violent conflicts, in a country where people are struggling to get by.
According to the CIVICUS monitor, civic space in the DRC is considered repressed. The latest evidence points to the repeated use of lethal weapons to disperse crowds at demonstrations and the censorship of songs that criticize the government.
Desperate to escape poverty (the DRC is one of the five poorest nations in the world), many families are forced to abandon their children. Today, an estimated 30,000 children live on the streets of the capital.
C'est Prévue Emmy Lusila, a young woman from Kinshasa, created Maison des Anges [House of Angels], an orphanage that takes in children from the street. Here, she tells us her story.
My name is C'est Prévue Emmy Lusila. I'm 21, the eldest of a family of five children. I'm Congolese from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and I identify as the mother of 13 children. I am motivated by the fight to end [child homelessness] in the DRC.
In the DRC, street children, or "shégués," are abandoned. They don't go to school, don't have parents, or a home to live in. They become what they become — those who find shelters get out of it, others become criminals. My objective is to fight against this phenomenon.
I was lucky enough to have a childhood that could be described as normal. I don't come from a very rich family, but I quickly observed that in my neighborhood, many children were not as lucky as I was. My parents are Christians and at the church we attended when I was a child, there were many collections (for instance, at Easter or at Christmas) to give to the poorest communities. That's how I learned to give.
A group from the parish would visit those in need, the ill, and the imprisoned, and I joined them. I would come home in tears after every visit because I felt like we didn't do everything we possibly could. That's how I found my calling at the age of 13.
When I went to live with my aunt, I decided to take similar actions to the ones I was undertaking with the church. At 15, I decided to create an organization. I was a minor, and, for me, the most important thing was to help other children. I also recruited friends that were my age for more support.
We started with 12 people and have grown to be about 50. The name of the organization came to me right away. When I met the children, I knew I wanted to amplify their voice, say everything they couldn't say, express their suffering, and explain that they had been abandoned. I also told myself that, through our actions, we would give them hope and a future. So I called the organization La Voix de l'Espoir [the Voice of Hope].
C’est Prévue helps two of the children at Maison des Anges with their homework.
In the beginning, we couldn't legally set ourselves up as we were all minors, but I told my friends right away that I wanted us to become like UNICEF so that we could help children no matter where they were. We then started holding meetings to determine where we should take action in the city.
One of the main challenges I faced in Kinshasa, and still face as an activist today, is raising awareness. People don't have respect for these children; they call them "street children" as if the street had given birth to them, and that's quite sad because the street doesn't give birth to anyone. I don't believe in calling them "street children." They are children on the streets, facing a world of violence where adults hit them and steal what people have given them out of compassion. That is their reality.
The very first objective for La Voix de l'Espoir was to carry out real action in the street. At the time, we met children and drew up a list of the ones who agreed to join a center, then, social services would handle taking them there.
At the time, I wanted to provide more help for the children, but when I asked around, I realized that you couldn't run an orphanage if you weren’t of age. As soon as I turned 18, I took the steps needed to be able to take children in. We raised funds, I found a house, and that's how Maison des Anges [House of Angels] was born.
Maison des Anges is an orphanage that currently houses children between the ages of 7 months and 13 years old. Most of these children come from the streets of Kinshasa. The objective is to give them a future by offering them a roof, an education, and thereby, a means to fight against juvenile delinquency. Currently, there are 13 children [in our care].
Early on, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to create a home where the children could have a roof over their heads, but above all, I wanted to create a place where they felt good, where they could play, and eat three times a day. I want them to grow up knowing they are no longer living on the street, that they have a new chance and a home, and that they can now grow up like any other child.
Today, I'm finishing my studies in law, but I'm there two to three times a week. The kids go to school six days a week, on Sundays they go to church, and twice a month, we have outings. We also host workshops so they can experience different things. I don't want to force them to go to college, so there are cooking classes and music workshops. I want every child to find their voice. There is no age limit to stay at Maison des Anges. They can leave if they find their family, finish their studies, or get married — just like any child would leave their own family.
C'est Prévue checks up on the children at Maison des Anges during a visit in November 2022.
In the future, I'd like to be able to welcome up to 25 children. I'd like to create Maison des Anges orphanages all over my country — in Goma, for instance, where many kids live on the streets because of the war — but I have to finish my studies first.
It's essential to understand that the issue of street children does not only impoverish the country financially or materially, but also intellectually. I am told that the youth is the future, but today, they are on the streets, and that's where poverty begins. We won't be able to meet the challenges [of tomorrow] because youth that has not been prepared [today] will not have a future.
By becoming doctors or professors, these young people could bring ideas to the table to help their country. Those who don't go to school have a high chance of becoming delinquents and committing crimes.
Even now, I still have this idea in my mind that I’d like to become like UNICEF, so I want a very strong organization with multiple programs and branches within it. La Voix de l'Espoir is really the mother of all these smaller projects. For instance, I created an empowerment program for young girls who are on the streets, and, in the future, I'd like to turn that into a school.
But today, what's lacking in my country is [the implementation] of social measures, it’s fighting against hunger. The children only wish to eat, go to school, and have a roof over their heads. There are many empty villas here and many children are on the streets. The government should do something about all of this, because even if school is free, what good is [that] if [the children] have nothing to eat?
Unfortunately, you notice that people here are not used to standing up for their rights; even I hardly plan any demonstrations. I mostly try to use social media to raise awareness or to host events, like the meal that I organize against hunger every year. We try to be loud, but the reality is that we don't know if we are being heard or taken into account.
There are many forums, seminars, and conferences about street children, but we never see any concrete action. I wish they would leave their offices and see reality with their own eyes.
To help these children, we should start by supporting the parents, lifting them out of poverty. Ideally, we should train the youngest ones, in particular, so they can start their own businesses. We should also support small individual businesses to encourage local manufacturing.
I'd like people to accept that others are less fortunate than they are, even if that’s just seeing that you get to have a piece of bread in the morning. We all have something to give: not necessarily money, but a little attention, asking how things are going, starting a conversation, and other small gestures — and above all, stopping the criminalization of children. These children have not asked for anything from anyone, and [they definitely] didn’t ask to be living on the streets.
C'est Prévue poses for a portrait with some of the children at La Maison des Anges. Today, the orphanage is home to children between the ages of 7 months and 13 years old. Most of these children come from the streets of Kinshasa.
As told to Antoine Le Seigle in French; edited for clarity and length.
The 2022 In My Own Words series was made possible thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation.