03/26/2014: When Marc arrived at the SOS Children’s Village Bangui, he was wearing bright pink shoes. Benedetta de Niederhauesern, Health and Emergency Advisor for SOS Children’s Villages in Africa, noticed them immediately. He was small for his age (of around 4 years) and his young face was very sad, Benedetta recalls. Moved by his sadness and curious about how she could play a role in helping him, she asked the SOS Village co-workers about his story.
The story she heard was upsetting. Amid the chaos of factional fighting in the Central African Republic
between various militias, Marc and his parents had lost each other and he ended up at a camp at the Bangui airport. Overflowing with tents and makeshift dwellings, the camp houses a minimum of 100,000 people. With overcrowding and a lack of proper sanitation, the camp was not a good place for a child without his family. Marc was taken in by a family who mistreated him.
Tracing his family
Fortunately, Marc’s circumstances were discovered within days of his arrival at the camp, and he was immediately referred to SOS Children’s Villages. With all the displaced children in the area, SOS Children’s Villages had agreed to provide interim care to unaccompanied children for a minimum of three months. When Benedetta saw Marc, it was his first day at the Village. He had received the distinctive pink shoes along with a set of replacement clothes. He became part of an SOS family.
Creating an emergency response
SOS Children’s Villages has been operating an emergency response in the Central African Republic since December 2013, which is just before the crisis reached its peak. Alerted by the national director that about 1,000 people were seeking sanctuary at the Village, the organization converted the local SOS primary school into a shelter for displaced persons. As of February of this year, approximately 4,500 people were being sheltered and protected at the SOS Children’s Village Bangui.
SOS Children’s Village also partnered with Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) who brought their mobile clinic into the Village. While MSF treated wounded people, the SOS medical staff focused on child and maternal health and addressing the effects of malnutrition. Even SOS mothers and aunts with adequate knowledge of first aid started providing on-the-spot medical care.
As the emergency operation in the Central African Republic reaches the recovery stage, SOS Children’s Villages is gradually returning to its core mandate: child protection, child and maternal health care for families, and education. In addition, a psychologist has been retained to offer group psychosocial support to the 163 SOS employees in the CAR. The psychologist is also training SOS employees to recognize signs of trauma in a child, so that the children receive appropriate support.
Marc Begins to Thrive
Meanwhile, little Marc has found a refuge and permanent, loving home with an SOS family. “His health has dramatically improved - and he is beginning to interact with other children,” Benedetta said.
SOS Children’s Village Bangui Director Jésus Jonas Zokayando said, “It’s a great pleasure to see Marc smile every time I come to the Village. Whenever he sees me, he runs towards me shouting, “Papa! Papa!” When Marc came to the Village, he was extremely malnourished and underweight. He’s been receiving specially developed meals and he’s now progressing very well. It’s encouraging to see such a child, who is the future of the country, recovering and growing so well.”