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3/12/2014 - Democratic Republic of Congo - Cilanda, accused of witchcraft, saved by children

(ANS - Mbuji-Mayi) – Cilanda is a Congolese girl abandoned on the street after being tortured by her family because she was thought to be a witch. The police picked her up and left her at the hospital without informing anyone. Following the intervention of a nurse, the court entrusted her to Fr Mario Perez, a Salesian missionary in Mbuji-Mayi. But, Fr Perez says,  the people who really saved Cilanda were other children who were also accused of witchcraft and are now residents of the Salesian house where they are patiently and lovingly cared for.

Fr Perez had been called urgently to the hospital. They told him it was a boy and they could do nothing to save him. The child was more dead than alive, very dirty and probably deaf and dumb. From the time he had come to the hospital he had not said a word and had not reacted to stimuli.

Faced with this situation the Salesian community decided to assume responsibility and take the child away from the hospital, even before they got authorization from the court. They offered him shelter, warmth and the love of a family.

It was only when they washed the small body that they discovered that it belonged to a little girl. On the first day it seemed that no amount of water would be enough to take away all the dirt attached to the body. She still did not speak but on the third morning she asked for some tea and decided to tell them her name: Cilanda.

At noon she ate a little more and in the evening she took a small piece of bread. In recent days she has begun to make small movements in bed and also to tell her sad story. Her family accused her of being a witch and kept her closed up for several days without food. They beat her repeatedly to make her admit that she was a witch. Then they threw her out on the street. She was so bad that she was unable even to sit.

In different areas of the African continent many children are beaten, abandoned, even killed because they are considered witches or wizards. In the community of Mbuji-Mayi alone, the Salesians have rescued about 500. It was these children who saved Cilanda.

In a telephone conversation Fr Perez said that, given the extreme condition in which she had arrived at the Salesian House, Cilanda needed to be rehydrated and fed gradually and with much patience. Every half an hour a boy or a girl – one of those accused of witchcraft ­– gave her a drop of water and a small bit of food as the doctor had prescribed. They are not afraid of Cilanda, they do not fear "the evildoers", but with their support they are helping her on the way back to health.

To counter the sad phenomenon of children marginalized because of superstition, last September the Salesian Missions Office in Madrid launched the campaign "Yo No Soy Bruja" (I am not a witch).

Posted on 12/03/2014

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