Islamic Relief’s Imran Madden has returned to the Central African Republic (CAR), where the organisation is helping vulnerable people whose lives have been torn apart by conflict. He reports back on his visit so far.

Working together against the violence

On Monday 19 May, I arrived in Bangui for the second time in the space of a month. Here, Islamic Relief is busy strengthening partners and increasing its capacity – and we are set to become the first international Muslim NGO with a presence in the country.

Given the nature of the conflict that is ripping through communities, it is particularly necessary that we are here as part of interfaith efforts to stop the violence from escalating further. Interfaith partnerships at this important time send a powerful message of reconciliation.

A safe haven for children

Islamic Relief has been supporting Child Friendly Spaces since April. Security is not a given in this volatile country, so I was relieved to be able to visit the project on this visit.

The scheme provides vulnerable children with a safe space away from the trauma and conflict. Many are unaccompanied or orphans, with many having lost parents in horrific circumstances. They can come and use the facilities to engage in a number of recreational activities.

The centre helps children to adjust and express their feelings. All children are assessed supported accordingly.

Drawing helicopters and guns

When I arrived at the first centre, I was surprised by the sheer number of children – the place was heaving. Most groups were doing a singing session and I was hit by wall of sound that was clearly designed to let the children release some energy. In the sheltered spaces, some of the older children were drawing on paper. This is an important way of finding out what they have experienced. Many pictures contained images of helicopters and guns – all drawn with great attention to detail.

I spoke with the centre’s supervisor, Bienvenue. He explained, “When we first speak to them, you can see in their minds and words the desire for revenge. But little by little, the spirit of revenge is reduced with fewer and fewer drawings of guns.”

Lesley

Lesley likes to draw and sing at the Child Friendly Spaces centre

In another centre I spoke with Lesley, 9. She told me, ‘I like to do drawing and to sing. We are happy to be here because it changes the way we feel and think. It is peaceful here – outside there is violence.”

There are no schools in the area, so parents and relatives are really keen to send their children to the centre. In the first week there were 858 children – by the fourth week it was 1,571.

These places make a real difference and Islamic Relief is looking to support more.

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