Central African Republic: Children in the bush
Ntiba, Nana-Gribizi region, is a small, remote village in northern CAR. It once had a vibrant and close-knit community but today it is deserted.
On 14 April at about 3pm, the rebels arrived to seek revenge for a deadly scuffle that had taken place that morning between one of their soldiers and a community member. Armed with machetes and pistols, they raided and burned the entire village. Many died, while some managed to escape into the bush. Eight months on, they still haven’t returned home.
We find several ragged young boys mooching by one of the crumbled houses. They confirm they live in the bush. Thierry, an older teenager wearing a ruined Chelsea FC top and a rope holding up his trousers, is struggling to keep still. “I am completely demoralised,” he says. “I have no money and no access to food.” He points to a threadbare structure. “That was my house…” he gestures across the road to another burned-down building “and there was my school. I used to go to school every day and have a normal life at home, but now I live like an animal in the bush….I am desperate.”
Monatchu is one of the few children who speaks French; he seems mature and intelligent. He follows Thierry’s passionate rant in a calm manner. “The problem for us is simple,” he says: “How are we expected to survive in these desperate conditions?” They have only limited rations of chikwange (a root similar to cassava), a few potatoes, and dirty water from the river. Occasionally, they travel to nearby villages in the hope of securing meagre food rations from other families. “You have found us here today because the bush is not a good place to stay all day,” says Monatchu, “so we come to nearby villages in search of food and any information.”
The initial coup earlier this year and the continuing violence in CAR have forced many communities to flee en masse into the bush. Many have died from untreated common illnesses such as malaria and diarrhoea; the majority of the casualties are children. “I have seen a lot of deaths in there,” says Rimi, a boy in a bright yellow t-shirt. “Many, many were children.”
After we’ve talked for about half an hour, the boys invite us to see how they are living. We get the green light from out team and follow them towards the bush. “Be quick!” they say.
Read the second part of this blog here