Afro-Jazz singer Gino Sitson is helping homeless and destitute children in the capital to find a voice and some purpose in life through music.
Sitson is currently giving some of the children vocal lessons and plans to record a single with them as part of his contribution to shedding light on their lot.
“When you sing, young bring yourself out,” the singer, who has a mixed Cameroonian, French and American heritage said in Yaounde on Thursday.
“[Music makes you] believe in who you are and not to exist in what you are not,” he said at a news conference.
Cameroon has thousands of homeless children who live in the streets of the major cities and face risks running from malnutrition to sexual abuse.
Their exact numbers are not known but Yaounde alone could have more than 1,500 street children, who have come from all over the country. About a third of them are under 18.
Sitson is promoting the rights of homeless and vulnerable children as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Cameroon office.
“Our goal is that no child should fall by the side,” said Felicite Tchibindat, the UNICEF country representative. “Whether you are born in Mora or Garoua Bulai, every child should have an equal opportunity to have a good life.”
Sitson will work with homeless children in Yaounde until 12 December.
“I want to bring them light, to believe in themselves,” he said.
The singer was born in Cameroon but is now better known as a French-American.
The Los Angeles Times described his talent as, “An extraordinarily pliable voice in setting rich in melody, emotion and rhythm. His gift for melody and his persuasive powers for interpretation establish an instant connection for listeners… always fascinating.”
Sitson dedicated his last album “Body and Voice” to street children, even before becoming UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
His engagement in the cause of homeless children comes from deep convictions and personal encounters with them, he said.
He described how watching homeless children try to steal things from him generated a “deep anger within me” against the injustices of society.
“I felt guilty for not helping these children,” he said.
The situation of homeless children in Cameroon is often overshadowed by the lot of other children like victims of early marriage, sufferers of malnutrition and refugees.
Tchibindat described it as an “invisible” problem, which has so far been tackled only through “fragmented” efforts.
UNICEF hopes the participation of celebrities like Sitson would raise the profile of the problem and place it high on the national and international agenda.
“It is the duty of everyone in society to protect children and promote their rights,” Tchibindat said.
On their own, homeless children in the capital roam the city center in the day and sleep on pavements and corridors at night.
“It is not a milieu that is favorable for the development of children,” Tchibindat said. “A child should be in a home and in a family.”