UNICEF representative Christian Clark has been dubbed the Pied Piper of Goma.
Each morning, this cheerful Canadian aid worker tours the streets of the lakeside town in a clanking white truck, collecting the scores of Rwandan children abandoned, orphaned or simply lost during the massive refugee influx into Zaire.Sometimes the truck screeches to a halt next to a ditch where a child lies dying of thirst. Sometimes it is flagged down by a passer-by who has spotted a child wandering alone.
At other times the children gather of their own accord at recognized pickup points, waiting to be taken to orphanages and camps where they will get food and clean water.
Aid agencies are battling to cope with a sociological phenomenon that will haunt the Rwanda of tomorrow. Rwanda's civil war is estimated to have created a total of 150,000 "unaccompanied children."
In Goma alone 10,000 abandoned children, a fraction of the 80,000 on Zairian territory, are already being housed in 18 crowded orphanages.
Thousands more are still waiting to be found. When aid workers moved a cholera-stricken camp in the Goma area to the opposite side of the road recently, they discovered 37 parentless children in the debris left behind.
"We've never seen such a huge number of people moving in such a short space of time. And when you have so many people crammed together, children get lost very easily," says Clark, a former political cartoonist who once wrote award-winning scripts for children's shows such as "The Muppets" and "Sesame Street."
Although many of the children were found at the deathbeds of cholera victims, most are probably not orphans. At least half, UNICEF believes, were separated from their parents in the panic and confusion of the rush across the border.
Which explains the agency's resistance to the idea of foreign adoption. "We could be giving away children whose parents are still looking for them. That would be a double tragedy," says Clark.
Once the children's immediate needs are met, UNICEF hopes to start the long task of reuniting them with their relatives.
The task will not be easy - some of the children are too young or too traumatized to tell rescuers their names, where they come from, or who their parents are. All aid workers can do is keep a record of where and when they were found.
The photographic conglomerate Kodak is sponsoring a project to photograph the 10,000 children, and their pictures will then be distributed in the refugee camps in the hope of sparking a response from parents, relatives or village elders.