Msanii means ‘artist’ in Swahili, and that is how the 15-year-old boy who dreams of being able to live on music wants to be called.
Of short stature, he does not seem to be his age. For 10 years now, he has lived in the streets of Goma.
He has never been to school and has not learned how to read or write.
But Msanii dreams to make his way to rap just like his idol, the singer Wanny S-King, who dedicates his compositions to children living on the streets.
“I think I would like to study and go to school, but my parents have no money.”
He has not visited his family for a long time.
“People in my community blame me for stealing a bicycle. If I ever go back there, they’ll beat me hard.”
Fights and petty thefts make Msanii days in Goma go by.
Music seems to be the only hope to leave behind a robbery routine.
“I want to write a song with Wanny.” He dreams big.
Msanii loves to sing and knows by heart the lyrics that he writes.
“I want to have a future in music.”
Wanny S-King, 26, is the children’s idol in Goma.
The Congolese singer is from South Kivu, the neighboring province of North Kivu, but it was in Goma where Wanny grew up, became an artist and where he is known and beloved by the street children.
“I grew up in the streets of Goma. I haven’t gone to any music school. I learned how to play on the streets. That’s why these boys like me so much,” says the rapper.
Wanny saw the potential of his fan Msanii and invited him to participate in the clip of his recent song ‘Maibobo’ honoring Goma’ street children.
“As an artist, I try to use art to help promote peace and positive change,” says Wanny.
Siston’s life is similar to Msanii’s.
He is 12 years old and five years ago he chose to leave his family. Poverty spoke louder.
Siston did not belong to any armed group, nor is he the son of soldiers. This is, however, one of the facets of the vulnerability of many Congolese children who end up seeking a livelihood on the streets.
What he really wanted was to study.
As none of this was possible, he left his family and five brothers behind.
He spends his nights leaning against the corners of the Virunga market. During the day, it is a busy area of the city of Goma. At night, it becomes a shelter for those who are looking for a roof to protect themselves from the cold.
At lunchtime, he resorts to the region’s snack bars asking for leftovers and, thus, he guarantees his daily meal.
“The only thing I want in life is to study, but my parents will not let me. They have no money.”
Studying in the Congo, even in a public school, is expensive.
Teaching is not free and parents have to spend between US$300 and US$500 a year to keep a child in school, a cost far from the reality of many Congolese families who can barely afford food for the children.
Like Msanii, little Siston has already discovered that life on the street means a daily struggle for survival.
Five months ago, he was the victim of a motorcycle accident.
Since then, he is walking with the support of crutches and with one foot swollen. Without medicines, he has never recovered.
He is shy. He does not know how to sing. But he sees with curious eyes Msanii and the other colleagues who risk composing their songs and rap rhymes.
He does not know if he wants to be a rapper, but when the kids get together to listen to Wanny S-king singing with them at public events in Goma, Siston gets encouraged.
When he is not at Wanny’s musical events, Siston seeks shelter in the outpatient clinics offered almost every day by the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Goma.
“I got surprised when I arrived in Goma, a city with so many NGOs, but where there was no project dedicated to children living on the streets. They were not considered a priority,” commented Carla Melki, who leads a pioneering project started in March and April, 2017, to provide medical and psychosocial assistance to disadvantaged children like Siston.
Named “Bobo Mobile”, the mobile clinic for street children conducts 200 medical consultations every week in different parts of the city.
Siston is one of those who regularly attends Bobo Mobile.
Sometimes he just goes looking for shelter, a snack that is offered after the appointments, and a friendly conversation with one of the nurses.
“We receive children of all ages. Many were born from people who already lived on the streets. We see children from 4 years old, but most are between 9 and 14. There are also adults over 18, adults who have lived on the streets for more than 20 years,” explained Melki.
A team of doctors, educators, and nurses tries to offer hospitality and clinical support.
About 400 children pass every day through the container structure parked in public areas of the city.
Most of the cases seen are malaria, injuries, inflammations, sexually-transmitted diseases, and respiratory infections, besides traffic accidents, as in the case of Siston.
For more complex cases, the MSF team takes them to health facilities in the city.
“Children know where to find us. Many come just in search of protection and to sleep safely,” Melki said.