Making the reintegration of marginalized children our primary concern
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Spotlight on the Movement for Action for the Reintegration of Marginalized Children (MAREM) in Togo

The Marem was created by Lome students who wanted to help with the social reinsertion of marginalized children. Activities were held both in the streets and in the EMERA Center. 

In January 2005, after conducting both field and documentary research, the students of Lome created a volunteer association called the Movement for Action for the Reintegration of Marginalized Children (Marem is the French acronym), taking the initiative to try to help with the social reinsertion of such children. The association is based in Lome, where the problem has taken on troubling proportions. For example, behind big buildings, you can find abandoned lots filled with the remains of broken down trucks, where children go to sleep. The area is alarmingly unsanitary.

The main goal of the association is to maintain contact with the street children, to listen to them, to support them, in order to prepare their reinsertion into social and family life.

Several steps are necessary in order to achieve this goal: identification, removal from the street, shelter, initial reinsertion via schooling or vocational training, contact with the parents, reinsertion into family life, post-reinsertion follow-up. The MAREM set up a rehabilitation center where children can stay between one and three years: the EMERA Center. Children are then reintroduced to family life, and take advantage of the opportunity to go back to school or start receiving vocational training. The MAREM also creates an environment where closer relationships between children and the biological or foster family are possible.

Street work: a first step towards work in the Center

Every Thursday, a team goes into the field to reach out to children who live in the street. Their activities include: individual interviews, awareness raising on drugs and STDs, organizing games, like football matches, in order to keep the children coming back, providing health and food assistance, laying the ground work for removal from the street, and letting the children know what kind of behavior will be expected of them afterwards. The children who come to the activities with the team the most often, and who show the strongest determination to break with street life, are offered the possibility of leaving the street, and a temporary stay at the EMERA center.

The EMERA Center

Follow-up 
It has welcomed children since 2008, and offered them, after interviews, either a chance to go back to school, or vocational training, in order to prepare for their future. Many opt for the second option, and are signed up for apprenticeships (sewing, wood-work, stone-work, motorbike mechanic). Social workers help the children acquire a certain discipline, learn the basics of living in a community, and to deal with conflict.

A group dynamic is more easily created for the children who go back to school. Many apprentices, however, drop out before finishing their vocational training.

Since July 2010, we no longer accept interns for professional training at the EMERA center; rather, they are asked to find workshops for themselves, where they can be given shelter, or else to suggest members of their families that can take them in during their training.

Special activities are part of the daily routine at the Center, helping them to slowly write a new page of their life stories: socio-educative activities (cooking, cleaning, health, gardening, etc.), recreational activities (board games, films, decoration, initiation to circus performance), and manual activities.

Working with parents 
This phase is just as important as the follow-up phase. We should salute the courage of the parents who, for the most part, spared no efforts to take an active part in their children’s lives as soon as they knew they were at the EMERA Center. They have tried to turn a new page in their lives with their children, by coming to the Center regularly, or calling to check in on them. There was a lot of communication between parents and children during Christmas, which led to greater psychological and emotional stability for the children. The children were once again considered as sons and daughters in the hearts of their parents, regardless of their past errors and misadventures.

Post-reinsertion follow-up 
Social workers visit children after their reinsertion once per week.

Problems can be caused by the following:

children are unprepared for the limitations placed on their freedom; the notion of authority is missing from their vocabulary; non-conformist behavior; refusal of certain parents to take part in the reinsertion process; the negative influence of some children on others; the departure of some of the children; some children go back to the streets, or sometimes go back and forth several times. 

What the children in the Center are saying

For me, one of the reasons I’m here in the Center is because I don’t get beaten any more.

I live here as if I were living at home with my parents.

I’m not complaining. I just have to manage how I interact with the other children.

I’ve realized at the Center that I have to think about succeeding in the future, and I see that at the Center I can go really far with my studies.

(About those who have gone back to the street) Maybe they don’t know what they’re really looking for, or they find things difficult here, because they had already lived with so much freedom in the street.

Outlook

We’d like to set up a “basic, informal school” at street level, in order to make sure the children we help learn how to read.

We are aware that we need another strategy in order to trigger the reinsertion process, because the EMERA Center has almost no available space left, and we don’t have the means to take in all the street children we are helping. That strategy would consist in helping children who want to go straight back to their families, to support them on several levels, and to become mediators between them and their parents. We’re working on it.

We’re thinking about moving the Center to a better equipped, more suitable location. We are in the midst of implementing the House for the Emera Center project.

Concerning children who are in apprenticeships outside of the center, we are looking at the possibility of creating a “little community,” a kind of open Center.

Our priority is for our presence in the street to become permanent.

To find out more about MAREM

http://www.maremvision.tg/