UNICEF and partners help educate children displaced by conflict in DR Congo
Walikale, DR Congo, 20 December 2010 – Ujumbe Kiwabantu and her family were displaced by the conflict in DR Congo two years ago, when they fled their home and came to live with distant relatives in Walikale, a remote rainforest territory.
“We came here because the military would always come to our village and loot,” said Ujumbe, 12.
“We ran away from where we were because there was war all the time,” added her mother, Bawli Apoline.
State of uncertainty
Congolese families live in an unpredictable environment and a constant state of uncertainty. At any moment, their lives could be disrupted again. As a result, quality education for children has suffered immensely.
“It’s very difficult to teach in an insecure situation like Walikale,” said one of Ujumbe’s teachers, Bernard Zirhumana Muzirhu. “An armed group can crop up and you are obliged to flee with the schoolchildren and stop the class.”
A protective environment
With support from the Government of the Netherlands, UNICEF and the Italian non-governmental organization AVSI are collaborating on an education-in-emergencies programme to help children in DR Congo continue their studies – and to provide them a sense of normalcy during this tenuous time.
The programme is part of an initiative to place education in emergency and post-crisis transition countries on a viable path in order to achieve quality basic schooling for all children.
“The school provides a protective environment,” UNICEF Goma Education Specialist Elena Locatelli said, noting that a few hours spent in the classroom each day also keeps children “occupied with activities that don’t let them think of the difficulties of their past.”
Change in teaching philosophy
“In the past, we would whip the children,” said Mr. Zirhumana Muzirhu. “But thanks to the psycho-social training, teachers and schoolchildren are now friends, so we don’t use the whip anymore.”
The education-in-emergencies programme is also rehabilitating schools and providing school supplies and recreation kits, so that students can participate in regular activities that are crucial to their physical, mental, psychological and social development. In addition, the programme has provided more than 130,000 children with education kits in conflict-ravaged North Kivu Province in recent years.
In search of stability
“My biggest fear is, I don’t know if my children will finish school one day,” admitted her mother.
Ujumbe and her family hope eventually to be able to return to their village and have their own home again, with the hope of a brighter future. “I would like my country to be a country of peace,” said Ujumbe, “for everyone to be able to go back home and live well.”
By Vivian Siu