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Celebrating Christmas and new year with the youth of Kinshasa prison

25-Jan-2017

End of year celebrations are important moments to be enjoyed with friends or family. This is a time to eat, drink, dance, and it gives us an opportunity to wish one another the best for the New Year.

Ndako Ya Biso marks this occasion traditionally with a Mass followed by a meal shared in a friendly atmosphere by social workers and the children attending the Centre. In the last few years, however, the idea came to take the opportunity to share this festive time with young people jailed in Central Kinshasa Prison.

How should we celebrate Christmas and New Year with young people held in Kinshasa prison? We received the answer to this question through the visit of Christan Bouchez. During one of his trips to Kinshasa he visited the prison and he was disturbed to witness the difficult, even appalling conditions that the young people held there have to live in. Moved by compassion he reacted immediately by sending money to help feed the boys jailed in the prison’s Pavilion 10, as well as the mothers and girls held in Pavilion 9. Again this year he made a generous gesture by sending a significant sum to help imprisoned young people.

So this year we decided to share our festive moments with the young people of Pavilion 10 by bringing them a meal that we would give them ourselves. In this way we would not be troubled by the thought that it could be diverted by the prison warders for their own use.

However carrying out this type of project within an institution of such importance requires an official authorization from the authorities in charge. Hence we wrote a letter to the Prison Director to ask his permission, which he duly granted for Saturday 31st December 2016. On the strength of this we organized a meal for two hundred young people, prepared by the Housekeeping Mother of Ndako Ya Biso, with the help of some volunteer mums at the Centre.

It took several hours of preparation. All the dishes were tasty, delicious, and made ready to be served to the beneficiaries. The menu was beans with tomatoes, grilled chicken, and tshikwange (cassava). Three educators of NYB were selected to carry out this task: Mother Mamie, and brothers Jean Didier Kapaya and Arnold Mushiete. Together we carried the food in a van.

When we got to the Prison we made ourselves known to the secretariat. We were then led to Pavilion 10, accompanied by a former prisoner that had been seconded to help us. When we got to Pavilion 10 we immediately realized that there were virtually no visitors there. This increased our zeal and our motivation.

However we counted more than 280 young people in the Pavilion. Some were in a rather poor state of health; others were very tired and disoriented. We were unable to feed them all, so we chose to feed the youngest, the sick, those who received no visits from members of their family or friends, and the weakest or weariest.

The boys were asked to queue in order to be served by groups of thirty. First to be served were the sick, then the weakest, and then those who rarely received any visits from family or friends. Ironically the boys looked after by Ndako Ya Biso and other charities were among the last to be served.

In total some 210 boys each received a meal which they enjoyed. On their plate there was a good serving of beans, a quarter of a chicken, and tshikwange. We even heard some say: “this meal reminds us of the good times we had in our family, when we were free…” Bottles of juice with the food made the meal even more festive.

Although food was given to a large number we went home regretting that not everyone could be fed. This is because the number of young people rose sharply between our preparatory visits and that day: at least 70 boys were thus unable to have a share of the meal.

Besides this we took the opportunity to apply to the judges of the Children’s Tribunal for a revision of the placement orders for some of the young people. Thus we obtained the liberation of 4 boys who were held for minor misconducts. Among them we can mention a boy of 16 who had never known his father and whose mother had remarried a military man living in Mbanza Ngungu, a town in Central Congo province. We were able to contact his family and they agreed to have him back. One of our brothers is ready to accompany him there. As for the other 3 we are working with them in order to ensure their social reintegration.

Arnold Mushiete

PS: For obvious reasons the prison staff forbade us to take photos!

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