‘I believe the children are our future,
The Greatest Love of All – song
Teach them well and let them lead the way.’
This was the vision of Daphrose Muteho for her home nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo. But how do you ‘lead the way’ for a generation who have grown up scarred by the brutality of war? Daphrose believes she has an answer...
Daphrose remembers her spell as an RE teacher in Himbi Institute, a high school in Goma, Eastern DRC.
‘A lot of the time they were so troubled that it was almost impossible to teach them properly. The teachers and masters were afraid of some of the children so we couldn’t discipline them.’
Daphrose was dealing with a generation that had been born into war. The Second Congo War had lasted between 1998 and 2002. At its height there were over twenty different armed groups from nine nations involved. And in spite of the official end of hostilities, fighting has continued ever since in certain regions. For many of the young people in DRC, the brutality of war is all they have ever known.
These were children that had witnessed the killing of one or both parents, some had experienced rape and sexual violence, others had left home to join armed militia. ‘They often joined the militia to avenge the death of their fathers,’ explains Daphrose. ‘So you can imagine 13 or 15 year-olds who had left home and were living in the forest. They’ve been killing, even burning other people alive. And now they come back and join the school. Imagine all the troubles they have, all the needs…’
Heart before head
Daphrose also worked part time as the school chaplain. However she just didn’t have the time and energy to deal with the kind of emotional scars these children had. Before these young people could properly learn, they needed to heal. She says, as a teacher, she was offering ‘head knowledge’ to a generation whose hearts were too badly scarred to learn.
Daphrose asked to take on the role of chaplain and counsellor full-time at Himbi Institute – at first on a voluntary basis. The school agreed and she embarked on a remarkable work. Now she had the time to offer to them, she found the young people opening up in a new way.
‘One girl came to school with a knife in her bag and she was planning to kill herself. Her friends saw the situation and they brought her straight to me. And I had a really powerful session with her, helping her to see that she can survive and didn’t need her to kill herself. She belongs to God now.’ Meanwhile children who had been fighting in militia would specifically come to Himbi Institute having heard that they could find healing and escape violence. Otherwise they would have just gone on to fight in the army.
Daphrose developed her work at the school and set up Gracia Counselling Centre, offering young people what she calls a ‘redemptive model’ of counselling.
‘Our counseling method is centered on solutions and not problems. Together we ‘co-create’ a solution for their problems. I don't sit alone in that session, because God, the ‘wonderful counsellor’ is always at work.’
She talks the young people through a series of five ‘doors’; different ways of approaching their problems and looking at them in different ways. ‘The first door to open is to see God's grace in the life of that girl,’ explains Daphrose. ‘She can cry, but often she will say, ‘I know that God cares about me and he’s able to change this situation.’
The fifth and final ‘door’ is to give up on any hope of change, but Daphrose says that the young people never reach this stage.
News has spread fast across the region about the centre’s work. Daphrose has already trained hundreds of other schools and chaplains to implement this process in other schools. She has now pioneered eleven high school based counselling centres in the North and South Kivu provinces.
‘This generation are like a fire. If we don't protect or guide the fire it will just destroy.’
A nation at the crossroads
Daphrose has a pressing vision to offer healing to a whole generation of ‘war children’ around the nation. With two thirds of the population under 25, this is the generation that will grow up either perpetuating war and conflict, or building a more peaceful future. She is also involved in mentoring some of the young people and believes that she has already met some of the the country’s future leaders and peacemakers.
‘I want to prepare them as leaders, as models, and also to be a solution for the challenges we are facing now in our country. This generation are the future life of our nation.’ She talks about one young person she calls Arthur, who had joined one of the militia groups as a teenager.
‘He got saved and was able to confess the sins he made when he was in the rebel group, – killing people, burning some alive. And he went on to get medical training, and now he has a degree in helping people. And when he was being trained, he was sharing a healing session with former rebels who were in the hospital.
‘Now we have a team of 10 ex-members of other rebel groups who meet each Sunday, all thanks to Arthur and his testimony. We are leading healing sessions with them so that they can also find forgiveness and help others like them, in turn.’
‘This generation are like a fire. If they are healed and mentored, this fire can be used to prepare food and we will all eat as a nation. But if we don't protect or guide the fire it will just destroy.’
Pray that Daphrose’s vision for the future is the one that wins out as a generation of ‘war children’ takes the reins of power in years to come.
Daphrose Muteho is an Inspired Individual. Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme exists to identify, develop and connect new leaders who are aspiring to live like Jesus and whose dreams have the potential to transform some of the most needy places and people in our world.