The Official Website of Serge Ibaka

UNICEF Gets Boys and Girls in the Game

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Serge Ibaka’s chances of becoming an NBA player were slim. Born in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, in September 18th, 1989, Ibaka had to face multiple obstacles in his childhood. Growing up in a war-torn, socially unstable country was a challenge for him from a very young age. Serge’s mom died when he was 7 years old, while his father had health and bureaucratic problems that had him absent of his son’s life for long periods. But adversity didn’t stop him from having dreams, and his was to be a basketball player. When, in 2009, he signed his first contract in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Serge Ibaka knew his work wasn’t done yet. In the court, he wanted to improve every year to become the best player he could be. Off the court, he realized he was in a unique position to help others. He had the mission to give back to his country and his people. In the year 2009, he started a relationship with UNICEF, outlining a master plan of the projects to work on in the future. When brainstorming with UNICEF about a charity program to develop in Congo, Serge quickly decided he wanted to help the kids that had no family -street kids- so they could improve their living conditions and education and because, like he did before, they should be allowed to dream, too.

Background

UNICEF has been working in Congo since 1964 and has maintained nationwide programs continuously since then, with operational bases in the capital city, Brazzaville, and in the coastal city of Pointe-Noire, the economic hub of the southern half of the country. Fully one third of the country’s population was displaced during civil wars that ended with a peace agreement in 2003, but continuing violence and instability have hampered resettlement. Today, 65 percent of Congo’s 3.5 million people live in cities, and half the population is under age 18. Only 2 percent of arable land is under cultivation, and 70 percent of food is imported, contributing to high food prices and widespread malnourishment.

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Congo has made important economic strides recently. However, wide disparities in income perpetuate poverty and lack of access to social services. More than half the population lives below the poverty line. One in eight children dies before age five, largely from preventable causes, and the country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region. Secondary school attendance measures only about 40 percent of age commensurate youth. Issues around Child Protection are among the toughest challenges UNICEF faces in Congo. Since the wartorn1990s, substantial numbers of children -many orphaned or otherwise separated from family- have been relegated to life on the city streets. Today they live in very precarious conditions, marginalized and widely exposed to violence and abuse. Girls must often turn to sex work just to afford food.

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UNICEF is working on many fronts to ensure that Congo’s vulnerable children can look forward to a better future. In close cooperation with the Congolese Government, UNICEF’s “Life Savers” initiative works nationally to promote 12 simple, easy to practice household behaviors. Among them are exclusive breastfeeding for six months, sleeping under an insecticide- treated anti-malarial mosquito bed net, hand washing with soap, and the use of oral rehydration therapy for diarrhea. In 2010, the Congolese Senate adopted a groundbreaking new law conceived to protect and promote the rights of marginalized children, especially those from indigenous populations. The new law for the first time gives all Congolese children a legal basis for access to healthcare, education, and protection. This advancement comes in the wake of intensified efforts over several years by UNICEF and its partners to document and draw attention to situations of child vulnerability and neglect of fundamental rights.

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UNICEF Gets Boys and Girls in the Game

Estimates of the numbers of children living on Congo’s streets are difficult to get. Around 1,000 street children are being cared for at existing centers, but there remain large numbers of children uncounted and uncared for, mainly in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. These youth are among the nation’s most vulnerable populations, and addressing their needs is a major priority for UNICEF. To reach these young people, UNICEF supports, in cooperation with local partners, dedicated youth centers that are equipped to meet the special needs of street children: Espace Jarrot offers boys both a comprehensive multi service  residential facility and a nonresidential center, while Actions de Solidarité Internationale (ASI) maintains an all-girls nonresidential center. All centers feature safe, child-friendly environments where children can have meals; access to showers and laundry facilities; medical care as needed; education, including literacy support; recreation; vocational training; and social support, including family reintegration and mediation services for homeless youth.

Specifically, each center will support Congolese children in the following ways:

Espace Jarrot

• Residential Center: Boys in the residential center all go to school, and they will likely reside at the center until they finish school if efforts to reunite them with their families do not succeed. The facility’s capacity is 30 boys

• Nonresidential Center: The nonresidential boys’ center welcomes boys three days a week. In an average week, the center serves about 40 (unduplicated) boys, some of whom travel a great distance to reach the center. The center’s vocational training programs lead to careers as electricians or auto mechanics, for example

Actions de Solidarité Internationale (ASI)

• Nonresidential Girls Center: ASI, the nonresidential girls center, has capacity for 60 girls. They attend the center every day for a program that has a very strong emphasis on vocational training -for example, in needlecrafts or baking- through which young women can build a viable independent livelihood. Their work in the center generates income for the girls in the program

Brazzaville

• Support intensive vocational training for 70 girls and boys and provide them with professional reinsertion kits that will allow them to run their own businesses after the training

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Project Goals

• Strengthen the capacity of existing centers (ASI and Espace Jarrot) in order to support street boys and girls and in the socio-professional reinsertion process

• Refurbish the interiors of two existing boys’ centers at Espace Jarrot (one residential and the other nonresidential)

• Refurbish the new site for ASI in the quarter “Plateau des 15 ans“, a location which is more central and accessible to both street girls from Northern and Southern parts of Brazzaville, the new site has been leased for a minimum of five years

• Support  intensive vocational training for 70 girls and boys and provide them with professional reinsertion kits that will allow them to run their own businesses after the training

The Impact of Your Support

As a leading humanitarian actor, UNICEF offers unique strengths in knowledge, skills, experience, and access. UNICEF offers its collaborators and donors affiliation with one of the most trusted brands in the world. UNICEF is positioned to leverage fully any financial support in strong partnerships with governments, civil society, and the private sector, as well as with the nations, communities, and rising generations of young adults worldwide that UNICEF serves.

The UNICEF Gets Boys and Girls in the Game project will ensure that urban street children in Congo -and eventually across the Central African region- will have what they need to survive and thrive. All investments in this timely and efficiency-enhancing project will help give children the protection they need to grow up able and eager to build a better world.

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