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Kinshasa, Congo youth

Teenage youth like these who were part of a 2009 UNICEF clean water program in Kinshasa are reaching the age where questions about gender are important. Discussion groups are helping male teens and girl teens understand the impacts of violent behavior. Image: UNICEF/Sverige

(WNN) KINSHASA, DRC: As paramilitary violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues with the absence of much of the western world’s media coverage, United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF is helping to bring ‘child-friendly’ spaces to adolescents who have been displaced. Many Congolese youth have experienced, seen or have had loved ones directly affected by violence.

Working together with AVSI – the Association of Volunteers in International Service founded in Italy in 1972, along with World Vision, UNICEF is helping to bring adolescent girls and boys to a safe and protected space they can ‘call their own’ where they can discuss issues close to the heart of all teenagers.

Impacts on communities in the Congo under the continuation of violence in the region has been ‘devastating’ to many of Congo’s youth. Discussion groups in the UNICEF program are set as ‘girl-only’ or ‘boy-only’ to enable teens to explore and talk freely with their peers on topics of their own choosing.

“I used to be very confused… Now I know that touching a girl inappropriately and forcing her is not right and it actually is violence,” says a 17-year-old Congolese male participant in the program named Cyprien. Approximately 2,000 youth, including adolescent boys and girls, have gone through the program since 2008.

With operations promoting education in the African region since 2003, AVSI is dedicated to bring a greater understanding of responsibility to teens through discussion and insight, “The ultimate goal of AVSI’s work is to develop a person’s capacity to take responsibility for his or her own life, while strengthening the social networks people rely on for support,” outlines the AVSI program.

Over one million dollars (USD) of international funding contributions and commitment pledges to AVSI for their work in the Congo in response to the displaced population in the KIVU province have been made by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office for 2011. Placing Haiti also in its top list the European Union is considered the largest donor of global aid in the world.

Stabilization in the region of the DRC has been plagued by conflict and localized government corruptions. According to ODI – Humanitarian Policy group, provinces in the eastern section of the country including Orientale, North and South Kivu continue to be impacted by severe humanitarian crisis with up to 1.7 million people suffering from displacement due to conflict.

In efforts to stop the violence and the continuing hold of the LRA – Lord’s Resistance Army – on the region, African Union and United Nations representatives were brought to the Bangui, Juba, Kampala, and Kinshasa last week to discuss regional cooperation in the implementation of stop measures with coordination of strategies for defeating the LRA. A joined and strategized commitment from four countries surrounding the region that have been affected by violence connected to the LRA is part of the mission.

In October 2011, the U.S. deployed 100 military special forces into the DRC region following 2009 Congressional legislation asking the U.S. to bring a planned strategy to improve humanitarian access to the region. Operations between anti-LRA initiatives in the Congo and Ugandan armies in the region brought in to assist in stopping LRA offensives have experienced ‘regional tensions’ though as cross-border armies are not widely trusted by the local Congolese.

Hoping to bring the conversation of violence against women in the DRC to include domestic violence as well as conflict violence is part of a new widening perception that is aided by UNICEF / AVSI programs to help teens in the region discuss topics of masculinity vs femininity.  Along with this, discussions about human rights, equal rights, equal power among genders and gender-identity in society are part of the interest in discussions for teens.

“What I like most is when we talk about falling in love,” says one young male participant in the program.

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Correspondent Natacha Ikoli in the Congo reports on the UNICEF program that is helping adolescent Congolese boys become allies against sexual violence. For more information about UNICEF campaigns in the DRC go to: http://www.unicef.org

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