Meet Amisi Pele. Pele is the executive secretary for CEJEDER, a local development organization that works specifically with children. CEJEDER uses music, theater, poetry, and seminars to educate kids on their rights and their responsibilities.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” says Pele, “so we are focusing on educating children so that tomorrow’s generation can make things better in the Congo.
CEJEDER has a staff of seven part-time employees, but also works with local music and theater groups to spread their message. They have formed clubs for children in Uvira and the surrounding villages. CEJEDER plans events with the children’s clubs, wherein is theater, music, and poetry that is designed to inform and educate children on their civil rights and responsibilities.
“These children’s clubs are the seeds we are planting to grow up to be a strong new generation that will bring peace, equality, and justice to Congo,” says Pele.
Issues that are important to Pele include preventing domestic violence and forced marriage, emphasizing the importance of education, and teaching children to stand up for themselves when their rights are being violated.
“Since adults are not always willing to intercede for children,” says Pele, “we want to kids to learn now when their rights are being violated so they will be able advocates for themselves. Hopefully this will also carry on into adulthood.”
A difficult aspect of Pele’s work is the lack of interest in children’s rights in Congo.
“Adults that decide to work on issues that affect the youth do not themselves see the benefits, so there is a lack of motivation on the part of adults to educate children on their rights,” says Pele.
One important aspect of CEJEDER’s work is on equal rights for boys and girls. Pele believes in gender equality in education and justice, as guaranteed by the Congolese constitution. However, in reality there is a significant gap between boys and girls in school enrollment.
“In Congo,” says Pele, “Boys are sent to school and not expected to do housework, whereas girls are expected to work at home or in the fields with their mothers.”
Gender discrimination is not limited to education. Domestic violence and neglect is frequently directed at girls. In addition, if a teenage girl becomes pregnant, she is often stigmatized and thrown out of the house. However, if a boy gets a girl pregnant, he can abandon her with impunity. Pele sees this disparity in societal norms as breaking the law.
“If there are rights for one, there must be rights for the other. Parents need to stop gender discrimination of their children if they want to see an end to the violence and poverty that has affected us for so long,” says Pele.
Since anyone under seventeen in Eastern Congo has only known war and massacres all their life, CEJEDER’s work is very important in building civil society from the bottom up. Children have suffered a lot from the war; male children are conscripted as child soldiers, whereas girls as young as twelve may be kidnapped and raped by soldiers or bandits. Women and children make up a disproportionate percentage of the victims of massacres in Eastern Congo. Many children have been left orphans by the war, and have to fend for themselves or else live with relatives that may be already burdened with their own children. CEJEDER’s work is made all the more difficult by existing societal norms and a lack of interest in the welfare of children. We hope that Pele and CEJEDER’s work will bear the fruit of peace and equality in the next generation.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Jul 7th, 2009