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UNICEF allows displaced children to continue their schooling in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, December 2012 - "I’m thankful to UNICEF for giving us a new set of notebooks," smiles Mushasi Muhera, 15. During a distribution campaign this week he received notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers and a ruler. The material is part of a school kit that aims to allow displaced children to continue their schooling. “We lost all our school material when we had to leave our village," he adds.

As Muhera fled from Karuba, 30 kilometres west of Goma, to escape from fighting between the 23 March Movement M23, an armed opposition group and the Congolese army (FARDC), his father died and his mother couldn’t take care of him any longer. The adolescent’s difficult trek took him to Mugunga1, a site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of North Kivu’s capital city of Goma, where he is now on his own. He spends the night sleeping in a little shed and lives on food provided by his neighbour Simire Sibonera. “I met Muhera in the IDP site. He’s a student and he can’t cook, so I take care of him,” explains Sibonera, a displaced mother of five children who fled from Rutshuru last July when war broke out in her territory.

Losing one’s childhood to wars and displacement

Muhera has lost more than most adults to armed conflict and displacement in Eastern DRC. At the age of 15, the young boy is now in 6th grade in La Paix primary school in Mugunga 1, but even with a three-year delay, Muhera 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,” he says.

Sibonera, Muhera’s neighbour, can barely find food for herself and her children since the departure of her husband. “I receive food distributed from people in the camp, or I buy food when I’m paid 1,500 Congolese francs (about $2) after working on other people’s farms,” she explains. In November 2012, UNICEF and its NGO partners Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Solidarité International supplied over 20,000 displaced households with 15 tonnes of soap, and 10-liter jerry cans in an effort to reduce the spread of water-borne diseases, including cholera, while WFP provided a three-day ration of food to each household.

Over 130,000 people, at least 70,000 among them being children, are affected by the armed conflict that has wreaked havoc in North Kivu since April 2012. Children have limited access to education, as over 600 schools have been looted, destroyed, or occupied by IDPs or armed forces or groups. “This past month, access to education in Eastern DRC has gone from bad to worse”, states Barbara Bentein, UNICEF Representative in DRC. “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.”

UNICEF steps up efforts to restore schooling conditions

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. According to Emmanuel Mateso, the Principal of La Paix Primary, the IDPs used classrooms as dormitories, destroyed school desks and dirtied the school. “Furthermore, the food at the school canteen was looted, causing some displaced children to miss days of class as they must go and find something to eat”, he added.

Another problem that schools in areas of displacement face is the increase of students since the beginning of the current crisis. At La Paix Primary School, there are now four times as many students as before, augmenting from 300 to 1250. To cope, the school started double shifts, with teachers giving morning and afternoon classes.

“Missing more time of much-needed schooling would be a disaster”, said Maker Mwangu Famba, Minister of Primary, Secondary and Professional Education of DRC. ”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”, added Mr. Maker Mwangu Famba.

UNICEF partnered with the Italian NGO AVSI to roll out educational assistance to students at La Paix, allowing Muhera, Sibonera’s son and other displaced children to continue their schooling in better conditions. “I thank UNICEF for the school material given to the children,” Sibonera says. “Without this assistance, I could not find food and buy notebooks for my child,” she adds. UNICEF currently mobilises funds to help children affected by armed conflicts in Eastern DRC to continue their schooling.



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