Getting back to school after violence: Tshibola's story

School provides children affected by crisis with a much needed sense of normality.

Aime Kouman Kouame (traslated from French by Holly-Anne Whyte)
02 February 2020

Tshibola Zobolayi, ten, lived peacefully with her parents, brothers and sisters in Kasuyi, a village in the Kasaï region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In August 2016, clashes between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and government forces drove the family to flee into the bush.

As they fled, the whole family was separated and Tshibola found herself in the bush with her two sisters. Tshibola lost everything that day in August 2016, leaving all her memories behind her. For more than a month, the young girl stayed in the bush, thinking she was safe. Unfortunately, the clashes drew nearer and Tshibola was taken by an armed group. "I saw people being killed", she explains, traumatised by the terrible scenes she saw during her two months' detention. Only ten years old, Tshibola saw her tormenters decapitate people and carry the heads in their arms.

On day when the commander of the group ordered Tshibola to take water to a unit posted not far from the camp, the young girl seized the opportunity to flee into the bush. For several months, Tshibola hid among the dense vegetation, not daring to come out for fear of being taken by the armed group again.

Once she found out that the security situation had calmed down, Tshibola left the bush to look for her family. She could not find mother, father and brothers, but the young girl soon found her two sisters, aged seven and ten. The three girls were placed with a foster family and enrolled in school.

"Every time I pass the place where I lived with my parents, I remember them and I am sad for the rest of the day", explains Tshibola, who is now in fourth grade at the Lukusa Kayembe Primary School. During the clashes, this school was destroyed and UNICEF set up temporary classes, built toilets and distributed educational materials and school supplies.

Getting back into the classroom has enabled young Tshibola to calm her fears and assuage her memories of the atrocities she witnessed in the bush. History and natural sciences are her favourite subjects. "I also love reading and recitals", Tshibola explains, with a big smile.

"I have been very happy since getting back to school", concludes the young girl who hopes to finish her studies in order to become a humanitarian worker and help the most vulnerable children in her turn.

In 2019, 257,313 students were provided with emergency education with the support of the, including the establishment of semi-permanent learning spaces, peace-building activities and psychological support for children and teachers in need.