The Witches and the Church Leaders

I,m writing in the Kinshasa offices of Save the Children on a French keyboard that,s driving me out of my mind. Can,t find the apostrophe at all. Horrid. But here goes anyway.

Another facinating day yesterday; beginning with meeting the religious leaders. They were a charming group of men, full of laughs, who regarded their work as being equally that of social workers as religious men. There were pastors, prophets, evangelists, doctors and apostles there, and they explained to me what each one was – but that’s for another time. Almost everyone here belongs to one church or another, and these are people who carry a great deal of weight.

One of these men, a prophet, explained to me the nature of witchcraft. There are two domains, this physical one and spiritual domains. It seems that most of the accusations of witchcraft against children are either from ignorance or from malice. Or to give it another name – fear;

Fear has it,s roots in a far more difficult problem – poverty. When a couple separate, the children, if they are over the age of five, go with the father, who then remarries. The new wife has many reasons to dislike her step children – resources and inheritance for example. Her baby falls ill, she does not know why … the children from the previous marriqge qre qcting oddly … It does not take a very difficult child to attract the blame, here as in the world over.

Many people do not understand the nature of many of the problems and ailments of childhood. This is why such things as bed wetting, skin disease, talking in the sleep, or the unexplained deaths of family members are often at the root of such accusations. Once there is a scientific explanation, the idea of witchcraft is dropped.

And this is the root of the good work Save the Children is doing over here. In a country with so much misfortune, so few resources and so little education, people find themselves struck with troubles from all sides that they have no explanation for. Educating the pastors or the parents in the physical explanation, quickly illiminates the root of the explanation. This is not hard, and not expensive, which is why these programmes have such a high success rate – up to 80 per cent from a single meeting.

Of course, the belife in witchcraft persist, and the accusations will continue for a long time. The religious leaders told me one or two stories that had in their view no explanation in this realm. But the good news is that such cases are rare, and that the current epidemic of accusations against children can be wiped out quickly. With a bit of luck? The child witches of Kinshasa can be all but gone in a short while. This frightening and apparently incomprehensible phenomonen is the bastard child of the usual suspects – poverty and ignorance. But unlike some of it,s brothers and sisters, it is possible to wipe it out simply with talking.

So – my wish for the next decade; to see the child witches wiped utterly out, and witchcraft, which destroys families and casts little children out onto the street, retreat back to the few isolated cases that it once was.

Finally – another matter. Anyone who know,s me know, how much I love stories, and I,ve already mentioned collecting some while I,m here. Yesterday afternoon we went to an open center for street kids, a drop in place to for children with no home to wash, eat, get medical attention and so on. After their lunch, I told them … the three little pigs. It,s a good one, because all the huffing and puffing crosses any language barrier – although I had an interpreter of course. And it,s a good one – the children of all ages loved it. The result – a barrage of stories off all kinds; They,re all written down – and they are for another ti,e as well. If possible I,d love to publish a collection of them for Save the Children. Anyone interested out there? I have a load already. I,m hoping to get more next week on the next part of my trip.

Oh – and a piece of good news from home. My TV and online piece The Well won the Royal TV Award for best Children,s programme. How bout that? Fingers crossed for the Bafta,s next week.

That,s all from me for now. Tomorrow morning, I,m off up the Congo river with Gocongo, a travel company specialising in traveling to pygmy villages. I,m hoping to collect more stories there. I shall be offline for a week. I,ll report more when I get back;

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