For hundreds of former street children in Lobito, Angola, ‘16 June’ has a double significance. Not only is it the International Day of the African Child, it is also the name of the community they call home.
David Candondo started sleeping rough when he was just nine years old. ‘There were problems at home’ he says, simply.
The problems must have been overwhelming because the streets had little to offer him in the way of shelter or protection. David survived by washing cars and collecting rubbish. He remembers having two main fears: the rain and the police.
'The police were always after us,' he explains, 'They would come and kick us out of wherever we were sleeping.'
Many of David’s fellow street children had been orphaned, abandoned or lost during Angola’s long civil war. Others, like him, had fled a troubled home.
Today, after eighteen years living rough, David no longer needs to fear the rain. He finally has a home of his own, complete with a bathroom and electricity.
(David Candondo, former street child. Photo credit: Christian Aid / Eugenie Galbas)
16 June is a community for former street children, the first of its kind in Angola. David’s house, along with over 80 others, was built after years of campaigning by Christian Aid’s local partner organisation, Omunga, alongside the young people themselves.
Omunga initially focused on basic shelter, and then began lobbying the local authorities to build permanent houses. Increasingly, Omunga trained up the youngsters themselves to take the lead in lobbying for homes.
Christian Aid often works in this way – empowering the poorest and most vulnerable to make their voices heard in the corridors of power.
The breakthrough came when the young people invited the city governor to visit the site and see their appalling living conditions for himself: cramped, shared tents and makeshift shelters, with no sanitation. He made a public commitment to start building them homes.
‘It helped that we pushed at the right time,’ David explains, ‘It helped that it was election time’.
The first building to be completed was the communal washhouse, complete with toilets, showers and large sinks for laundry. During their many years living rough, on the streets or in tents, most 16 June residents had had little access to washing or toilet facilities.
Upon receiving his home, David immediately started building an extension so that he could offer shelter to three of his younger brothers too. ‘I didn’t want them to go through what I did,’ he explains. The four brothers now live together.
But building a better future involves more than just bricks and mortar. Christian Aid’s support has also enabled 16 June residents to get the identity documents they need to be recognised as Angolan citizens.
Acquiring identity papers doesn’t sound particularly life-changing, but it is. Without these documents, people like David don’t officially exist. They are completely excluded from all kinds of services and opportunities that most of us would take for granted, such as enrolling at school or applying for a job.
But the seemingly simple task of obtaining identity documents presents an insurmountable barrier for former street children: most 16 June residents struggle to manage official paperwork because they never learned to read or write.
(Avelina and daughter Dominga. Photo credit: Christian Aid / Eugenie Galbas)
Avelina Nangulande, 28, is making up for lost time now, learning to read in Omunga’s literacy classes. But her two-year-old daughter Dominga won’t need to catch up on classes as an adult. Thanks to Omunga, she has the identity documents she will need to enrol in school.
Avelina can also rest assured that when Dominga falls ill, she will now be able to take her to the doctor if she needs to, without worrying about the cost. Thanks to Omunga’s campaigning, the local authorities in Lobito have granted 16 June residents free access to medical care, including emergency ambulances.
Many of the children now living in 16 June community spent their early childhood living rough with their parents, who had themselves grown up on the streets or in tents. Now children like Dominga have a secure roof over their heads, medical care when they need it and the ID documents they need to go to school. This generation will have the chance to break the cycle of homelessness. 16 June is a date and a place worth celebrating.
Omunga’s life-changing work is generously supported by Irish Aid.