Refugee children are given a voice

2009-12-22 00:00

The Mzunduzi Innovation Development Institute (Midi) Children’s City 2020 project recently facilitated a workshop for Jehovah Jireh (an organisation that works with refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo) with a group of refugee children. The Children’s City 2020 (CC2020) project operates from the belief that “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” (Nelson Mandela) and therefore facilitates processes that enable children to voice their opinions about their circumstances.

The Children’s City 2020 initiative is the first of its kind in the country, where the city governance structures, business partners and university are united in an effort to improve the lives of children in Pietermaritzburg. The mechanism for this improvement is through engaging children to participate in the decisions, processes and activities that affect their wellbeing and futures. The stakeholders are committed to enabling children to have a voice in the city.

Children’s City 2020 facilitators conducted a workshop with approximately 70 refugee children, where they engaged in participatory activities, asking the children “What is it like to live in this city?” Working in small groups, the children constructed maps of “all the places I go in a week”. The children then added to their maps, firstly, the problems they encounter going about their daily lives, and secondly, the good things about their lives. These activities served as a mechanism for facilitating discussion about their experiences of living in Pietermaritzburg.

While some of the children shared the positive aspects of their new lives in South Africa (including picnics in the park and watching TV), many of the children reported concerns about crime and not feeling safe in public spaces. Children drew men in balaclavas wielding guns and knives seen in parks and on the way to school. Police officers were portrayed as helping to reduce this threat. Road-safety issues also emerged, with taxis pictured running over children crossing the road. Some of the children also mentioned snakes and dogs as problems that they encounter frequently.

As can be seen from these pictures, children’s perspectives and experiences can help to highlight problem areas which can then be targeted for transformation. The CC2020 project aims to encourage adults to listen to children so that changes can be made now to impacat impact on the future.

• The Children’s City 2020 Project can be contacted on 033 342 2844 or

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