Marlene* works as a supervisor in a Child Friendly Space run by Save the Children, inside the camp for displaced people at Bangui Airport.
She studied sociology and anthropology at university and had worked in child protection with Caritas, another NGO, before coming to Save the Children in October 2013.
She has always loved her job.
But in December, after fighting broke out in Bangui, she temporarily found herself in the same position as some of the families she usually helps.
Violence and fear
Suddenly, her home was in the wrong part of town.
She remembers, “Armed men were going from door to door, searching for men to beat up and kill.
“I begged my husband to leave to save himself, so he left me, our daughter and my cousin. At the time I was about 7 months pregnant.”
Afraid to leave the house
For two weeks, they did not dare leave the house because of the fighting. Eventually Marlene had no option but to abandon her home and seek refuge with a friend.
“The next night our home was raided and everything was taken. I’m glad we fled when we did.
“We stayed at my friend’s house for three months during which time I had my baby. Finally in March my husband returned and we rented a place for ourselves”.
“Children are the future of our country”
Marlene is now back living with her husband and two young children, in a home they have rented. If anything, her experience has made her more passionate about her work.
“I really like being out in the field with local communities and children,” she says. “If I can’t get to work for some reason or other, like insecurity, I don’t feel right.
“Children are the future of our country. If I am working with members of the community I can get to know their problems and try to help more effectively.”
Challenging situations bring opportunities for change
The best moments of Marlene’s work come from challenging situations, she says, especially those where children are in need of counselling.
“A few weeks ago, two children had a serious fight over a toy.
“They were about nine years old and one was much bigger than the other and started hitting her. The bigger child’s grandmother somehow found out and arrived at the Child Friendly Space and started hitting the girl, too.
“Without peace we have nothing”
“I stepped in and calmed the grandmother down and explained to her that hitting children was not a positive way to change behaviour.
“I then sat down with the children and tried to get them to reconcile. We discussed forgiveness and what had happened. Finally they both went home fine.”
“Central Africans want peace,” Marlene stresses. “Without peace we have nothing. We need social cohesion.
“People can help us with strategies and support but we need to re-find love between us and solidarity. No-one else can give us that”.
*Name changed to protect identity