In conflict-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, children displaced by war get a chance to continue their education
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19 December 2012 – Fifteen-year-old Mushasi Muhera fled Karuba, which is 30 km west of Goma, to escape fighting between the 23 March Movement (M23), an armed opposition group, and the Congolese army (FARDC). His father died, and his mother could no longer care for him.
The boy’s difficult trek took him to Mugunga 1, a site for internally displaced persons on the outskirts of North Kivu’s capital city of Goma, where he is now on his own. He sleeps in a little shed and lives off of food provided by his neighbour Simire Sibonera.
“I met Muhera in the [internally displaced persons] site,” says Ms. Sibonera, a mother of five who fled Rutshuru in July when war broke out in her territory – and who can barely put food on the table for her own children. “He’s a student and he can’t cook, so I take care of him.”
Bad to worse
Since 19 November, more than 130,000 people have been displaced in and around Goma and are currently living either with host families or in camps and spontaneous sites, or in public buildings. Children have limited access to education; many schools have been looted, destroyed or occupied by internally displaced persons or armed forces or groups.
According to UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Barbara Bentein, “This past month, access to education in eastern DRC has gone from bad to worse. Some schools that had already been affected in April haven’t yet fully recovered. And now the recent fighting is further depriving Congolese children of access to education. Getting them back in school is vital to their protection – especially in these troubled times. When not in school, children from North Kivu are more at risk of being exploited, abused and even recruited.”
Back to school
In November 2012, UNICEF and its NGO partners Norwegian Refugee Council and Solidarité International supplied over 20,000 displaced households with 15 tonnes of soap and with 10-litre jerry cans in an effort to reduce the spread of water-borne diseases, including cholera. The World Food Programme provided a three-day ration of food to each household.
UNICEF is also mobilizing funds to help children affected by armed conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo continue their schooling.
In Mugunga 1, UNICEF has partnered with Italian NGO AVSI to roll out educational assistance to students at La Paix Primary School, allowing Muhera, Ms. Sibonera’s son and other displaced children to continue their schooling in better conditions. “Without this assistance,” says Ms. Sibonera, “I could not find food and buy notebooks for my child.”
By the end of the year, UNICEF and partners will have distributed school kits to 80,000 children in North Kivu, in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Professional Education.
Every hour counts
Schools in areas of displacement have faced a precipitous increase in the number of students since the beginning of the current crisis. At La Paix Primary School, there are now four times as many students as before, an increase from 300 to 1,250. To cope with the influx, the school has rolled out double shifts, with teachers holding morning and afternoon classes.
“We are concerned that many children will have difficulties catching up and taking their exams. They may even lose their entire school year or drop out. Every hour counts. Together with our partners, we are in the process of ensuring that all schools are open and functioning as quickly as possible,” says Minister of Primary, Secondary and Professional Education of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Maker Mwangu Famba.
Muhera has lost three years of his education. He is now in Grade 6 at La Paix Primary School and has hopes for his studies. “Education is important,” he states firmly. “Only people who go to school and can read, write and calculate get jobs.”