Born Jean Mkoto Dieumerci on 22 April 2005 to Ngosia Nzinga, 28, and Jean Mtoko, 30, at Mama Yeyo hospital in Kinshasa
By Katrina Manson | The Guardian
David was born in the rundown Mama Yemo hospital and spent the first five weeks of his life there – not because he was ill but because his parents could not afford to pay a £255 bill for the caesarean delivery.
Katrina Manson reports on his life since then David Lewis Dieumerci was renamed after the Guardian reporter who first wrote about him. Photograph: Katrina Manson for the Guardian
Jean Mtoko Dieumerci doesn’t exist anymore. Not because he is among the one-in-five Congolese babies who never make it to their fifth birthday, but because his parents changed his name. He’s now called David Lewis, after the reporter who found him when he was a healthy baby trapped in a hospital that wouldn’t release him or his mother until they paid a bill running into hundreds of dollars. The Guardian paid the bill.
Today, he and his family live in Bagata, in a sandy clearing in Kinshasa’s Makala district. Getting there feels more like travelling through a village than wandering through a capital city. Tyres, clothes and sandbags poke up through the rubbish in an attempt to stop erosion on the pathway, where the rainy season has long since gouged out the road. Covered in smouldering refuse, cars stick in cloying mud before they are abandoned at the roadside.The government, led by President Joseph Kabila, hopes to win re-election next year. He points to a social development programme that promised to bring Chinese-built roads, jobs, healthcare, homes, electricity and more. Nobody in Makala has noticed.
« You can hardly believe that Mercedes cars used to drive down here. Now we have nothing and life is getting worse, » says Paul Lutumba, David’s uncle, among the few in the family to have a mobile phone.
In many ways, David’s family are among the lucky ones. The British charity War Child says more than 2.7 million children under five have died due to the effects of Congo’s five-year war in 1998.
David has suffered malaria, diarrhoea and typhoid. Hundreds of thousands succumb every year. He has a home, unlike an estimated 250,000 street children, many of whom are accused of sorcery and turned out of their homes to lighten the family’s burdens.
Nor is David a child soldier, unlike many in the east of the country, where violence has forced 1.45 million people from their homes.
There is beauty amid the squalor of Bagata where a street pedicurist is at work. David’s mother Ngosia has bright purple toenails, a well spent 14p.
As five-year-old David sits under a tree outside the metal-roofed shack where he sleeps, a young man shaves a boy’s head, while a young woman threads beads into a younger girl’s hair. It is a pleasant scene of a family making do in the midst of poverty.
But like many of the 79.5% of Congolese who live on less than $2 a day, David’s family is broke. He doesn’t go to school, and his older brother was recently taken out of class.
« We don’t have enough to send the children to school, even though they have the will to learn, » says Ngosia. Jean Mtoko hasn’t had a regular job since before David was born. Ngosia sells chikwangue, a pounded manioc sludge wrapped in leaves, and brings in £6.90 a week for the immediate family of six. But the owner of the shack is moving back and wants them to leave. Ngosia doesn’t know where they will go.
« I have no hope anymore – I haven’t the means to hope, » she says. « Now I just leave everything to the hands of God. »
Like so many Congolese, they can look but they can’t touch. Their tiny home, with a living room packed with televisions and stereos that don’t work, is strewn with electric wires that power nothing, the bill long since unpaid and the supply cut off. Were it to come back on, the family is not allowed to turn on the television unless the landlord’s son is there too. David and his brothers sleep on a mattress on the floor with their parents. Their older sister curls up on the sofa.
David says he’d like to go to school and have a football and a bicycle. Instead, he has crafted himself a gun out of wood, and runs around hiding playing war games. What does he want to be when he grows up? A soldier.
© 2010 The Guardian. Article by Katrina Manson