“I want to be a singer. I already wrote a song. I did it myself.”
Sylvain Mbuki is 18 years old and has lived on the streets for five years.
Born in a community 10 km north of Goma, Sylvain is the eldest of a family of four brothers and a sister.
The father died while fighting during the Second Congo War that ended in 2002. His dad was a soldier of the Congolese army.
With twenty other teenagers, the boy lives in the vicinity of the Quartier les Volcans, a bustling area of downtown Goma where the expatriate community and United Nations staff live.
“I hope to become a singer and make a living with my music. My inspiration comes from my life, from myself. My music is about our days in the ghettos of Goma.”
He tries to do odd jobs, wash cars, and ask for money. He does not get food every day.
Being a street kids means relying on the generosity of pedestrians to offer some food.
“I’ve got nothing to eat for days. I have nothing to do, I cannot go to school, I cannot work. That’s why I have ended up on drugs. Life is not easy.”
When the night comes, he wraps himself in cardboard boxes and hopes to fall asleep.
“I’d like to go back to my house, but I need money.”
Sylvain is part of a generation of street children that has proliferated after two decades of armed conflicts that have ravaged eastern DRC.
In Goma, there are more than 2,000 children on the streets, many of whom have been lost or abandoned by their families.
Widow of her soldier husband and without protection, Sylvain’s mother had to get married again to make her living. Today, she gets some changes from the sale of charcoal and firewood, her son says.
Sylvain is one of the orphans of the conflict.
The street children in Goma are everywhere. They live on alms, petty thefts, and they often approach foreigners begging.
During the day, they wander the streets of the city looking for small services to guarantee some cents of Congolese francs.
At night, they shelter under the sewers of the main roundabouts of the city or in ghettos of construction sites and vacant lands.
In a survey made by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams, 2,200 street children were registered.
According to Carla Melki, the organization’s field coordinator, it is estimated that there are another 1,500 children, adolescents, and young adults in Goma that have not yet been registered.
“We found that there are many children on the streets. Some fled, were expelled, or their family members disappeared. It is common for widowed mothers, when they get married again, to have the husband rejecting the child of the first marriage,” Melki explained.
The existence of hundreds of children on the streets in the capital of North Kivu represents a serious social problem that may weaken the already-peaceful city since the dismantling of the armed group M23 that invaded Goma in 2012.
The UN peace mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) has been established for 16 years with its battalions and civilian staff based there.
Goma has also become a humanitarian hub for numerous international organizations.
Sylvain sees the music as liberation and an escape valve.
His idol is the young Congolese rapper Wanny S-King, 26. He seeks inspiration in him and today, whenever possible, he takes part in his band.
One of Wanny’s most recent songs is called ‘Maibobo’. In Swahili, ‘street children’.
Sylvain’s big dream was to participate in a video clip of his idol. One day, he was one of the boys chosen to play in Wanny’s band.
“Street children are my inspiration. I have a great connection with them, they are all my brothers,” says with affection Wanny S-King.
Maibobo talks about the life of a street child.
“They are not happy living on the streets. They get sick and what they want most is to get back to a normal life. Nobody understands them,” Wanny explains.
And this was the reason why Wanny composed the song. “To show that people should help these kids get off the streets.”
With art, everything is possible. “Because art has no limits.”
For Wanny, art has the power to bring people together.
“It is a good idea to include art in the promotion of peace, to use art as a peaceful and non-violent weapon,” argues.
“I just want to be free and live in peace. I want the children to leave the streets. There is no future there.”