Years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the degradation of the country’s economic situation has led to thousands of children having to fend for themselves.Orphaned, abandoned and exposed to extreme poverty, disease, insecurity and violence, street children have no access to healthcare nor education.
But amidst these myriad of challenges, one Congolese activist is hoping to change their plight.
Noushka Teixeira is the founder and director of the Matumaini Orphanage and Literacy Centre, which is home to over 30 girls between the ages of four and fifteen years old.
When I returned to Kinshasa twelve years ago, I noticed that there was a large number of children in the streets of Kinshasa.
The 34-year-old was born in Congo Kinshasa and was forced to leave her country as a child from the disastrous war that took over the country.
In her previous years, she has worked with NGOs that have opened up her experience. Noushka opened the Matumaini Centre in 2010, which educates and helps street children reintegrate back into society.
When she came back home in 2004, she was shocked to see a large number of street children, especially girls, living in dilapidated conditions.
“When I returned to Kinshasa twelve years ago, I noticed that there was a large number of children in the streets of Kinshasa, especially young girls. I thought that it must be difficult for young street boys, but I can’t even imagine how it is for young girls. When I started seeing young 10 and 12-year-old girls getting pregnant, I told myself that we need to improve things. We really need to educate them, we need to guide them. While touring the different orphanages in Kinshasa, I realised that the case of young homeless girls was not being taken seriously, so I decided to do something about it,” she said.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 children currently live in Kinshasa’s streets – exposed to extreme poverty, disease and abuse.
Despite the need for shelters like Matumaini, Noushka struggled to get the capital to start the centre and had to use her own money. She decided to invest in girl education.
“We need to invest in the education of children, particularly of young girls, especially here in Congo, where there is a lot of emphasis that is put on young boys because culturally, young girls are expected to stay at home to help their mothers. Young girls are expected to go work in the farms and they should look after their siblings. But it’s essential to put an emphasis on girls education in our country, we need it,” she continued.
She attested to having had financial problems at the beginning as no one showed up to support the project.
“The main challenges that I encountered at the beginning were that I thought I would have many people supporting me with this idea. But I quickly found out that it wasn’t the case. I also struggled to finance this project because investors were not coming forward to help fund it.”
Noushka won the “Women for Change” prize worth 27,000 U.S. dollars in 2014. She plans to expand the centre and build a school for girls, as well as provide vocational skills.