During the meeting of the youth of Kivu, which took place in Bukavu from 18 to 19 of last July, President of the Community of Sant'Egidio Marco Impagliazzo, with a delegation, visited the central prison of the city, where the community has performed a service of weekly visits for 6 years, in the minors’ section. Most of the detainees are street children, picked up by the police during raids to "clean up" the city, and they are not guilty of any other fault but their extreme poverty.
On behalf of all, a young detainee received the visit with a speech to the Community and to the world "outside", in which he described the dramatic situation in which they live:
“Dear Marco, dear friends of the Community of Sant'Egidio, on behalf of all the minors in the central prison of Bukavu, we welcome you. Today the world considers us as unrecoverable people, who can no longer change and for whom the only solution is prison. The prison strikes us on the psychological, physical and social levels, since most of us lack a support and the means to defend ourselves. Our societies have built prisons, but they ignore how life is inside them, that is, what happens, the kind of life the prisoners live, how they eat and where they sleep.
We thank the Community of Sant'Egidio for the various activities that allow us to continue dreaming, and thank you especially for the Christmas lunch. It is true, the friends of the community say they have "neither gold nor silver, but only the Word of the Lord" and the love that they bring us humanises us, and I myself, who speak to you, am a fruit of that love.
Certainly the needs for the minors in prison are numerous despite the presence of the Community and let me list the main ones:
Food is insufficient; if we get sick, only nature takes care of us, because there are very few medicines, we have neither recreational nor educational activities.
To achieve our dreams of reintegrating into society and humanising our lives, we ask: Adequate medical and nutritional care, literacy and vocational training to be done in the prison itself, a recreational space with the showing of films and games.
We tell you again thank you for your presence amongst us and we assure you and the whole Community of our prayers.”
On the occasion of this visit, it was possible to review the dossier of 5 imprisoned children and, with the payment of a deposit, they could return to their families.
6 years of friendship with the young prisoners
The prison of Bukavu is an old colonial building, built by the Belgians in the early 20th century. It was designed to accommodate 300 inmates, today there are more than 1500, in very precarious conditions. The first times we went there, we realised that one of the main problems was the living conditions in total promiscuity, the decay of the environment, the health conditions of many prisoners who had not accessed to any medicine. A first idea was to separate the boys under 18 years of age in a different area, complying with a provision that the Congolese law itself provides.
From having obtained the recognition of this right, a more personal friendship started, in particular with the youngest inmates. Amongst the questions that were addressed to us, the first one was to speak to them about the Bible and the prayer, then to give some advice on hygiene and health care, to provide soaps and some literacy for out-of-school children, who are those that come from the countryside.
Many of them are street children who we had met and followed up even before they entered prison. Even if they have not committed any particular crime, they can fall into the "raids" of the police, who, unfortunately, regularly decide to "clean up" the city of beggars. The Community has officially protested in an open letter regarding these practices, and chose to help the street children by finding them housing and providing the support for the courses of professional integration. After prison, friendship does not end and the Community is committed to seeking a better future for the youth of the city.