Protecting children

There is more to say about Sadiki Bertin’s work in Kakuma refugee camp than can be contained in one article.

After fleeing violence from rebel forces in Congo with his wife and children, Sadiki fled through Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda before he was able to seek asylum in Kenya. He reached Kakuma on a Sunday afternoon in November 2009, and approached Lutheran World Federation (LWF) the following day to ask how he could contribute to child protection. At the time, Sadiki had experience working for Save the Children in his hometown and spoke fluent French, Lingala, Bembe, Swahili and Rundi, but had limited English.


“I had to learn English from the community. I spent time with the Sudanese. I learned English from them, and they learned Swahili from me.”

After several months working in a volunteer capacity, Sadiki was engaged by LWF as a Child Protection Community Development worker in January 2011.

“I started working in Kakuma II, mostly with the Great Lakes community.[i] Kakuma II identifies many cases of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and early marriage. I speak with families, community leaders and religious groups.”

At that time, Sadiki says, the community had very little understanding of child rights and protection.

“I had to mobilise the community to identify vulnerable children—unaccompanied children, separated children[ii] and children who are being forced into marriage. We were only two people working but the community was very active, especially providing foster care for vulnerable children.”

Sadiki identifies with vulnerable children because he was one. Both of his parents were killed in the Second Congo War,[iii] leaving him under the care of a relative who died when Sadiki was 14.

“I lived alone for a long time,” he explains. “I learned to be tough and I learned to be a friend to anyone. I can live with Sudanese, Congolese, Burundian, Somali—anyone. I had 15 siblings in Congo but I am the only one remaining. Life for an unaccompanied minor is hard.”

This is why Sadiki and his wife have taken in foster children when carers are needed. In addition to their own five children, the family cared for a young Sudanese boy with health concerns for more than a year before he could be placed in the care of a Sudanese family.

“We are Congolese, the child is Sudanese but it’s not important. We treated that boy like our own son,” he says.

And between it all, Sadiki facilitates youth programs that educate young men about their responsibilities to prevent sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

“We are starting with the boys and men because they are the ones responsible for perpetrating. The girls are vulnerable because in Kakuma they have less access to resources. They are the ones who are left with pregnancy.”

The programs are working with young men to create ambassadors for child rights, especially against early marriage and SGBV. With input from LWF’s youth programs, they hosted a first public event and youth tournament in April.

Sadiki explains that child protection is not easy in Kakuma. “When I follow a case and speak with the elders, sometimes I fear. Someone threatens me and tells me I am not the parent.”

But he has many positive stories, too. In describing his own history, explaining the work being done to educate young men and detailing the responsibilities of a foster carer, Sadiki reflects on some of the successes he has had as a Child Protection Community Development worker, assisting children at serious risk of harm. One of these illustrates the value he places on this work: “I know I saved the life of that child.”

submitted by Lutheran World Federation World Service Kenya – Djibouti Program

[i] The African Great Lakes Region refers to countries that surround 7 great lakes in East Africa. In Kakuma, the community is comprised of refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

[ii] Unaccompanied and Separated Children (UASC) represent vulnerable categories of children with definitions as follow (UNHCR):

Separated Children

Children who have become separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives. These may, therefore, include children accompanied by other adult family members.

Unaccompanied Minors

Children who have been separated from both parents and other relatives, and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.

[iii] The Second Congo War took place from 1998-2003 and caused the deaths of 5.4 million people. It is the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II.

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