Date: 22 Aug 2002
By Manuel Muanza
LUANDA, Aug 22 (AFP) - Every year, some 200 Angolan children are taken off the streets of Luanda and gently reintroduced to family life at the Arnaldo Janssen centre.
"We give these children a home and help to get them back on the straight and narrow," said Roman Catholic priest Pedro Caballero Horacio, who runs the centre.
"At the same time, we look into the reasons why they were on the streets, look for and re-educate their parents, and then return the children to their families," he said.
Like many of the children at the centre, 13-year-old Julio says he feels "at ease here, because no one hits you."
"It’s cool living here," he adds, as he leads a group of his housemates through their morning task of cleaning the dining hall.
Outside, other children sweep the courtyard before all of them meet in the classroom in the afternoon.
The centre, founded in 1992, has specialist staff whose chief task is to root out groups of abandoned children on the streets of Luanda.
"When we find the children, we try to find the root causes of their situation," Father Horacio says.
"That allows us to decide what to do next with them — whether to take them back to their parents immediately or give them a home at the centre."
Often, the centre’s staff finds babies, less than one year old, abandoned on the streets of the Angolan capital.
"They are taken in by families who are part of our Catholic parish, and we provide the necessary aid to help them to raise them," Father Horacio explains.
Every year, the centre helps some 200 children return to a normal family environment.
"They are only returned after they have undergone a full process to re-establish their emotional stability and their parents, who have to accept being reconciled with their children, have been re-educated," Horacio explains.
Children who are originally from regions far from the capital often have difficulty finding their parents again.
To help them, the Arnaldo Janssen centre has "launched a search programme, and we are in the process of locating some of the parents."
Children who have been orphaned — and they are numerous, with Angola just emerging from a 27-year civil war which ended in April — and others who cannot return to their families because of economic or psychological problems remain at the centre, where they receive professional training to prepare them for adult life.
Every year, the centre awards at least 140 diplomas to the apprentices it has trained, notably in carpentry and as electricians.
The Angolan authorities estimate that some 100,000 children have been abandoned by their families and live rough in the southwest African country.
Child abuse and extreme poverty help to explain "why so many children flee to live on the street or are abandoned by their parents," Father Horacio says.
And he laments, "It looks as if the situation will persist in the Angolan capital because the families’ economic situations have not improved" since the official end of the civil war on April 4.
mm/kdz/bm AFPCopyright (c) 2002 Agence France-Presse