Tag Archives: DR Congo

Sarah Rowse – DR Congo / Burundi – A report from a little known crisis

20 May

“There was something particularly undignified at seeing teenagers – on the cusp of adulthood – forced to sit on makeshift benches more akin to what one would find in a nursery school.”

I’m not long returned from a trip to eastern DR Congo where I was visiting Children in Crisis’ work with young Burundian refugees.

These teenagers, many of whom are unaccompanied minors – separated from their parents and siblings – have fled an unfolding and worsening crisis in their country.

It’s a lesser known crisis, one that hasn’t hit the headlines. Indeed, Burundi is a lesser known country that few have heard of, but what’s abundantly clear to me, from visiting the refugee camp and spending time with the young Burundian refugees with whom we’re working, is that this unfolding humanitarian crisis is no less important.

Since the crisis in Burundi first erupted two years ago, ignited by the unconstitutional and deeply divisive decision by incumbent President Nkurunziza to run for a third term, Burundi has been thrust into political and economic turmoil. Government crackdowns against opposition movements, suppression of the media, an increase in violence and extrajudicial arrests – have resulted in upwards of 260,000 refugees (the majority women and children) having fled to neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania, DR Congo and Uganda.

Those that have fled to eastern DR Congo, some 16,000 of them, are living in a refugee camp on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Lusenda is already home to over 16,000 Burundian refugees who have fled increasing violence and extrajudicial arrests. © MONUSCO

Lusenda is already home to over 16,000 Burundian refugees who have fled increasing violence and extrajudicial arrests. © MONUSCO

Since November 2015, Children in Crisis alongside our dedicated local partner, Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI), have been working predominantly with young people from this camp and with head teachers and teachers from the surrounding Congolese secondary schools. These schools, whilst doing their best to accommodate the young refugees, are struggling.

To this end, we’ve thus far supplied much-needed teaching and learning materials to the host schools to accommodate increased enrolment. We provided just over 1,000 school kits and uniforms – responding to the very real needs of these young Burundians who have fled, literally with the clothes on their back. We’ve applied our extensive pedagogical expertise to provide much-needed training to Congolese teachers from the host schools to help them respond to the changed classroom environment that the refugee crisis has brought, and we’ve established drama clubs for refugee and non-refugees alike, helping young people to express themselves and make sense of the situation they find themselves in.

We have supplied over 1,000 school kits and uniforms. What became clear during our conversations with Burundian students is that, apart from the clothes they were wearing when fleeing their homes, these uniforms are the only other clothes that they now have. Photo credit: a photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

We have supplied over 1,000 school kits and uniforms. What became clear during our conversations with Burundian students is that, apart from the clothes they were wearing when fleeing their homes, these uniforms are the only other clothes that they now have. This photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

Children in Crisis’ focus on education – both formal and non-formal – in this emergency context, is essential; it is also a mammoth task.

It is essential for the following reasons:-

  • At a time when young people are facing the toughest of times, uprooted from friends and family , going to school and maintaining their education provides some precious normality and stability in their lives.
  • In refugee situations, as has sadly been played out time and time again, young people are far more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation; the risk of recruitment into militias is a very real one, and girls in particular are at greater risk of sexual violence. The protective function that going to school plays in such situations can’t be understated.

But the task, as I mentioned, is a mammoth one.

With the crisis in Burundi showing no signs of abating, refugee numbers are predicted to increase.

The host Congolese secondary schools, even before the refugee crisis, were woefully under-resourced.

School buildings are small, cramped and dilapidated and there is a need to construct new schools and classrooms to cope with the doubling, in some cases, trebling, of enrolment.

In one of the schools I visited, Institute Lokololo, the head teacher had taken the initiative to rent an additional building to accommodate increased enrolment of refugee and non-refugee students, but the school lacked the means to furnish the school and, as a result, students were reduced to sitting on planks of wood or on upturned bricks on the dirt floor. There was something particularly undignified at seeing teenagers – on the cusp of adulthood – forced to sit on makeshift benches more akin to what one would find in a nursery school.

The planks which make for benches used by teenage students at one of the host Congolese schools.

The planks which make for benches used by teenage students at one of the host Congolese schools (photo taken by Burundian students).

A school toilet.

A school toilet (photo taken by Burundian students).

DSC_0815

Temporary classrooms have quickly fallen into a bad state (photo taken by Thea Lacey).

And these teenagers – like teenagers the world over – are bright, articulate, creative, intelligent, proud individuals.

Each that I spoke too had ambitions and hopes.

Each were clearly deeply anxious and troubled by the situation they find themselves in.

Each had harrowing stories to tell of what forced them to flee.

Children in Crisis and EMI are the only organisations responding to young people’s secondary educational needs at this time. We can and must do more to respond to the plight of these young people; with over 10 years skills and experience working in the region, in the field of education and with displaced communities, we know what to do and how best to do it, in response.

A photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

A photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

If we are able to secure the necessary support, this is what we will do:

Increase the secondary school premises available in Lusenda as the current situation is untenable. We are currently drawing up plans to construct a new school building.

Address the gap in out-of-school activities for young people of secondary school age (both in and out of school) in a way that combines several different goals, such as :

  • boosting intra-community cohesion
  • providing young people with positive ways to spend their free time (reducing the risk of them being attracted to anti-social and harmful activities)
  • creating ‘edu-tainment’ opportunities through which important public health and protection messages relating to early marriage, sexual and reproductive health can be communicated to other young people and the wider community.

In addition to additional teacher and school management training provide support to schools to establish enterprises; enabling them to generate a school income & increase resources such as classroom furniture and learning materials (which are currently at a very low level and which will need maintaining into the future).

The establishment of school enterprises would also enable young people to learn enterprise and business skills. Such skills would be highly relevant to young Burundians at this time, helping them to offset any dependency created as a result of their refugee status.

Advocacy & support

We need help in order to sustain our activities in the longer term. We need advocates and supporters to raise awareness of the plight of these young people and of this little known crisis that is unfolding in this little known country on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch or donate online if you think that you can help today.

Amy Parker – DR Congo – This school is merely the tip of the iceberg

29 Apr

‘‘If we don’t have peace, life is empty. We will lose everything again if we don’t live in harmony. Children of Tulambo, this is your future.’’

These words, spoken last week at the inauguration of Tubangwa Primary School by a local chief were met with a huge round of applause by all those present to celebrate their new school. This Primary School is the 15th to be built on the Mid and High Plateau region in South Kivu, DR Congo, by Children in Crisis and our local partner NGO Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI). Tubangwa School sits in Tulambo village. Nestled deep on the Itombwe Plateau, with no telephone coverage and several days’ journey by foot to the nearest centres, Tulambo has long suffered from inter-ethnic conflict. It is a region inhabited by two communities, the Banyamulenge and the Babembe. For many years, peace reigned and the communities lived happily side by side. However, the years of conflict from 1996 onwards saw the two groups pitted against each other. Former friends and neighbours found themselves entangled in a fatal conflict, driven by rumour, jealousy and manipulation. Today a fragile peace has been reinstated, but it is a peace that needs nurturing.

Approaching Tubangwa Primary School, with the rusty , leaking roof of the old school building to the left.

Approaching Tubangwa Primary School, with the rusty , leaking roof of the old school building to the left.

‘If we don’t have peace, life is empty. We will lose everything again if we don’t live in harmony. Children of Tulambo, this is your future.’  - Tulambo's community leader

‘If we don’t have peace, life is empty. We will lose everything again if we don’t live in harmony. Children of Tulambo, this is your future.’ – Tulambo’s community leader

When talking about what makes them sad, the first thing that the men, women and children of Tulambo spoke about was war. In my personal world, death is not something that I think about regularly. It is not something that I’m faced with regularly. However, for the group of 11 and 12 year old pupils with whom I chatted, the first thing they told me they didn’t like to see was death. The thing they most hated to hear was news of people being killed by war. These sentiments were echoed by the men and women I talked to. Men spoke about not wanting to hear people talk about inter-ethnic killings, they don’t like to hear news about war and they are sad when they see people fleeing and the destruction that war causes. Women spoke of the sadness of widows and orphans left behind following conflict. They hate to see friends become enemies and are scared when they hear news of fighting.

Sylvie is one of Tubangwa's pupils who I spoke with at the school opening.

Sylvie is one of Tubangwa’s pupils who I spoke with at the school opening.

Three women who were part of the school construction committee.

Three women who were part of the school construction committee.

The construction of a school is seen as a symbol of a brighter future. The building itself is merely the tip of the iceberg. In all of Children in Crisis’ schools-construction projects, we work closely with the community to ensure they are ready for the job at hand – the investment of the local population is enormous. Whilst we transport building materials from the lowlands and provide a skilled team to lead the project, the community will work together to provide stones for the foundations, sand for the cement and water on a daily basis over eight months of construction. Being so invested-in and integral to the project, they also scrutinise the quality of construction throughout, and become ambassadors for education within the wider community.

Esther Nyakaguju, a mother of eight children who spoke extremely powerfully about the power of the school to unite everyone and the hope it gives for the future.

Esther Nyakaguju, a mother of eight children who spoke extremely powerfully about the power of the school to unite everyone and the hope it gives for the future.

As is often the case, for the communities of Tubangwa Primary School, the construction project also provided a neutral platform for previously warring communities to work together for a common goal – more important than any lingering mistrust or suspicion.

Children sat at comfortable desks, in their new school.

Children sat at comfortable desks, in their new school.

The resulting, bright spacious school is not only a place for Tubangwa’s children to learn and prosper. It is the best chance we have to put an end to the spectre of death that haunts people of this region on a daily basis. It is the hope for a future without conflict.

Click here to learn more about constructing schools on the remote Plateau of South Kivu and the work that could benefit from your support. 

Amy Parker – DR Congo – Picture this

30 Jan

Picture this.

Harvest time is the only time of the year when you have a bit of spare cash. One of your children falls sick, but it is in September before the January potato harvest. You have no money to pay for medical fees. He dies.

Night falls at 6.30pm and the sun rises again at 5.30am year-round. You are in absolute darkness.

Your husband has complete control over you and your family’s life.

You had four children. Three of them died. You’re not sure what of, but they were constantly hungry. Your only surviving daughter is 15 but has never set foot into a school.  

You are bored. There’s nothing to do and no reason to work. You’ll always be poor.

You are a widow with seven children. You are completely isolated from your neighbours who view you and your family as a lost cause.

Over the last eight months we have been running a pilot project with our partners, Eben Ezer Ministry International, on the Uvira mid and high Plateau region of South Kivu, eastern DR Congo. Pamoja (meaning ‘together’ in Kiswahili), is a savings and credit programme that supports groups of 20 – 30 community members to meet regularly, save and then access small sums of money from these savings. These debts are then paid back over three months, with interest, back into the group’s cash box. After 12-months the total amount is shared out amongst members in ratio to the amount they have saved.

I spent time in September last year and last week visiting different groups and talking to members about their experiences and the above scenarios are all real-life testimonies from people I met. They describe major problems encountered by people in this isolated region.

So how is Pamoja helping?

Futina

Futina

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests. Futina, a member of the same group, spoke of how she has used a credit to buy and sell sugar and oil. With some of the profits she has bought torches and batteries so that her family now have light in the long evenings.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save to improve their children’s lives between harvests.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests.

Women from Mandeleo group in Kahololo village told me of the small but significant changes happening in their lives. As members of the saving group, they are now able to contribute money to their families’ affairs and as a result, their husbands are starting to include them in discussions and decisions about the running of their households for the first time.

Rose, a member of Tujenge group, has used credit to pay for school fees for her one remaining daughter to start primary school. She hopes that this will mean her daughter has a brighter future. Members from groups in Butumba and Gitigarawa spoke to me of finally having something to aim for. Before Pamoja, many villagers would sit idly all day long with nothing to do. Having to save every other week means group members are now actively looking for work so that they can go to meetings.

Notiya

Notiya

Cultural expectations in this region require people to be able to provide visitors with tea and food. Neighbours stopped visiting Notiya soon after her husband died as she couldn’t afford any refreshments for them. For years she has been ignored, struggling to keep her children alive. Notiya told me that being a member of her savings group has meant she is now able to receive visitors as she should. Her fellow savers have become her family, she is no longer the poor, shunned widow. She is once again a valued member of society.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families' affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families’ affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

 

Pamoja is an example of what poor communities are capable of with technical and moral support. We have six months left of the current project, and we will continue to work hard with our groups and track progress and challenges. It has made me absolutely determined to ensure that we are able to widen the programme to other communities on the Plateau, as well as staying with these original groups so that they can carry on taking charge of their own and their families’ futures.

DR Congo – International Day of Rural Women – Sylvie Lokenze

14 Oct

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

To mark and celebrate the International Day of Rural Women Children in Crisis would like to introduce to you one woman who we very much admire. Sylvie Lokenze works for our local partner NGO, Eben-Ezer Ministry International (EMI) in DR Congo.  As Programme Manager of our Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) project, Sylvie works hard to give women in remote and rural eastern DR Congo a better life. She is passionately dedicated to ensuring that girls are given the chance to go to school and play a part in improving their region. 

 

(The following is a transcription of a telephone interview recently conducted with Sylvie.)

Tell me a little about you – name, age, family, childhood, studies, work

I am Sylvie Pokeeni Lokenze, 23 years old and firstborn to an un-married couple of a female secondary school student (20) and a teacher (30). They tried to make it work as tradition asked them too, but they didn’t manage. I was born after they separated and lived with my mother’s family until the age of 10. My mother managed to complete her studies after I was born, her family was very proud of her because she was amongst a very small minority of girls who got their secondary school diploma in her village at the time.

I started school in 1995 but the war started very quickly (in 1996) and the security and financial situation of my family deteriorated. My mother therefore decided to take up work as a teacher and eventually taught at my school. I studied more quickly than other children, worked hard at school and everyone said that I took after my mother. I felt loved.

In 2001, my mother remarried and a little later on they moved to a town in North Kivu. I then went to live with my father in Bukavu. On the outskirts of Bukavu there was a technical school, run by the Catholic Church. My father wanted me to go there after primary school. He signed me up but it was a very difficult school and girls were discouraged from attending as there were only technical subjects (mechanics, woodwork, electrical engineering). I managed to finish the 2nd Grade (with difficulty!) after which I was guided to specialise in vehicle mechanics rather than machinery (the latter was my father’s preference).

Sylvie Lokenze

Sylvie Lokenze.

 

Lots of things happened during my 6 years at secondary school. Six years that weren’t really happy, but the worst time was a certain Saturday when I learnt from one of my uncles that my mother was in a very poor state and was waiting for me at my grandma’s. She had come home to give birth to her 3rd child with her husband. The baby wasn’t planned and was born in the same hospital as me. Sadly he died some months later. My mother suffered a lot and at the end she had difficulty in recognising me and my three brothers. At the time of her death I was on a work placement in a garage in Katana village. I was one of the last hear of her death and I arrived 3 days after her funeral in August 2006.

In 2007, my father found another job in Uvira. I stayed with my uncle so I could finish my mechanical studies – I only had one year left. I had work placements in mechanics and I also followed an office management course. I managed to get lots of temporary work at the ICRC (International Red Cross) as their mechanic to earn some money. I started an undergraduate degree in IT Maintenance in Bujumbura. On returning to Uvira, I started working as an IT trainer and got an internship with a microfinance organisation and eventually I became Client Manager. At this time I signed up to an MA in IT and Management – I developed excellent competences in financial and client management.

I then applied to the post of VSLA manager at EMI and I was selected. I was so happy, as this opened the door to my dreams: to work in the development and humanitarian sector, to participate in intercommunity development, to be involved in peaceful resolution and to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable, especially Congolese women.

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo.

 

Tell me a little about the Plateau – describe the landscape, the climate, the distances etc

Formed by many magnificent hills and peaks, covered by a carpet of velvet grass and wild flowers – once you have reached the summit, you have the sense that the world has transformed – you breathe a pure and unique air.

Often watered by heavy rains, a gentle and dry wind blows constantly, the Plateau temperatures are much lower than in the lowlands. On the Plateau, everyone knows each other and are incredibly loyal which means that they welcome a stranger as one of their own.

The only thing is that it is an isolated zone, as if cut off from the rest of the country. Its people have little access to humanitarian assistance or to development opportunities.

Dependent on a ‘local’ administration 100km away, the Plateau hardly ever benefits from governmental assistance and is classed as an obscurity by the State. Road access is nigh-on impossible for the majority of the year, and besides, the roads only cover a small part of the Plateau. This has resulted in very slow development and accentuates the physical and ‘emotional’ distances between Plateau and lowland dwellers.

A playground for rebel groups, the Plateau has suffered crises of war and intercommunity cohesion is still fragile and at risk due to interethnic conflict that still exists in this region.

Whilst houses in the same village are physically close, even if socially there is a gap, between villages there are huge distances and you have to walk for hours to reach them.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

 

Tell me a little about the women of the Plateau – their lives, opportunities, challenges and hopes.

Daily life for women on the Plateau is difficult due to the role they play in the household. Domestic chores vary from the easy like washing up to the more complex and arduous such as collecting firewood – and they are not able to complain.

The work in the fields that they do, which is a constant, is the principle means of food survival in the household but their integration into the management of their income is not automatic.

Plateau women are in their majority illiterate and they find themselves excluded from socio-professional development. Even though they have the intellectual capacity and a huge socio-economic potential, they are not included in decision-making which has created an inferiority complex leading them to be unaware of their capacities and strengths.

These women fight for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family but have very few opportunities to reach their goals. They want to have and enjoy their rights, but how to get there? When even the most fundamental of rights, like the right to education and/or male-female equality are a long way from being understood and honoured?

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

Are there tasks that are just for women – which ones and why?

Yes!

For example, rendering the houses, collecting firewood and fetching water, finding food for the family, cooking, washing up, laundering clothes. Making sure the house and children and clean and the hardest of all work – fieldwork (cultivating, seeding, weeding, transporting seeds to and produce from fields…). To the good question ‘why’, perhaps an inappropriate response is ‘because these tasks are deemed to be easy’ – and that in the eyes of men.

We have to compare ‘male’ work such as looking after and milking cows and cutting the grass in the fields before the women come and hoe, plant and weed them.

How is fieldwork? At what age do girls start to work the fields?

Fieldwork requires maximum force, getting up before day breaks, working in cold and wet conditions (many times the ground will be rock hard with frost), sometimes you have to walk for hours simply to reach the fields and harvest, you have to transport the products back home and then on to market which are situated many km apart. In brief, a long-term endeavour that necessitates courage and sacrifice and without which survival on the Plateau would not be possible. Girls from around the age of 10 are expected to help their mothers in the fields. There are many cases where girls will have to work before and after school.

Why should rural women and girls be educated? If they are just going to end up in the fields, what is the point?!

Of course!

Educating girls is just as important as educating boys – it is their right and it gives them the opportunity to participate in the transformation of living conditions; not just for women and girls, but for the whole community which is still a long way from being full of rights and development.

Education opens the doors to success in their own life by diversifying their life choices; spending your whole life in the fields is not a choice for all women, rather an obligatory burden that has been put on their shoulders. Further, the community needs their participation in many other spheres to complement men’s participation; so far, man alone has not managed to get very far with the development of the region.

Through attending school, a woman reinforces her intellectual potential and acquires an additional capacity to reflect, a profound understanding of her rights and responsibilities which allow her to fight for respect and consideration within society.

 

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Associaiton

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Association.

 

Do you think that life on the Plateau is changing? For the good? For the bad?

Yes, I have seen a positive change on the Plateau, even in the short time I have been working there. And I think that a huge amount has changed since Children in Crisis  & EMI started working there.

In effect, the Pamoja (VSLA project – Pamoja means ‘together’) project has given a value to women on the Plateau: Firstly through opening up the possibility for women to lead their groups and secondly giving them the possibility to be a holder of financial capital which is a way to be self-sufficient and to be proud of having a place in society.

Nowadays, a woman can count on her own funds without having to approach her husband for authorisation on how to spend any money coming into the household. She has social assistance from her group if she needs it, hope for her projects and believes in a better future for herself and her household.

What else can I say about the benefits of previous projects? In the past, going to funerals or to the market would mean taking children out of school. Before people didn’t know that they should be sending their girls to school – today it is the opposite. People from different ethnic communities didn’t used to be able to discuss and positively dialogue around differences whereas now they are starting to cohabitate positively…

Generally speaking, life is no longer as it used to be thanks to the effective monitoring of change. Reinforce this change, and the future will be even better.

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot.

 

Children in Crisis is delighted to announce that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

Donate button graphic

UKAID logo

Jean Paul Rubyagiza – DR Congo – Heroes for peace

3 Oct

Those that were killed were travelling on route to the Plateau to undertake humanitarian work with local schools in Itombwe. They had no other task than this.

A posting from Children in Crisis’ partners in DRC, Eben Ezer Ministry International, to mark the three-year memorial of the tragic murder of our friends and colleagues.

By Jean Paul Rubyagiza

Our colleagues who were killed on 4th October 2011 are heroes for peace and sustainable development in the region.

The date of October 4, 2011 remains anchored in all our memories. For staff at Eben Ezer and at Children in Crisis, for the widows and orphans, and friends of those we lost, our memories of the tragedy which occurred that day are still immensely painful.

Those that were killed were travelling on route to the Plateau to undertake humanitarian work with local schools in Itombwe. They had no other task than this. As is well known, the work of Eben Ezer and that of our partners, Children in Crisis, is for all communities without discrimination on any grounds.

As we mark the three year memorial of the tragedy, the victims we commemorate today are:

 

Eraste

Eraste

Eraste Rwatangabo

Head of the Education Program at Eben Ezer, a man of open heart, always happy, a friend of everyone, enterprising, eager to make a positive change in everything he did, committed to contributing to the development of all communities. He gave himself body and soul to fight against all forms of discrimination (ethnic, domestic, family, tribal, gender) and across the different communities of the region. He laid the foundation for a lasting peaceful coexistence in the selection of schools to be built under the education programme, ensuring that they were built in multi-ethnic communities. Unfortunately, he was killed simply because of his membership of the Banyamulenge community. With a BA in History, Eraste was a former history teacher in DR Congo and Burundi (1985-1996), Head of Provincial Division of Primary Secondary and Vocational Education in South Kivu (199-1998), Field Officer at ICRC Bukavu (1998-2004), Head of the Liaison Office in Minembwe for the independent Electoral Commission in DR Congo (2006) and finally, Education Program Manager (2007-2011) at Eben Ezer Ministry International based in Uvira.

 

Tite

Tite

Tite Kandoti Rugama

Team leader within the Education team of Eben Ezer and Children in Crisis, Tite was highly organised, he maintained impeccable records and was very dedicated to his work. He was warmly regarded by principals, teachers, students and parents. It was clear to all that he loved his job very much; and would always go the extra mile, organising additional training sessions during the monitoring visits he undertook of teachers to help them master classroom techniques and teaching concepts they may not have well understood during the residential teacher training.

 

Gifota (in yellow)

Gifota (in yellow) delivering training

Gifota Byondo

With a BA in Biology, Gifota served as a Principal of a Secondary School (1981-1987), a Professor in Burundi (1989-1994), he was in charge of research at ADEPAE Bukavu (1998-2000) and finally trainer of teachers and principals of primary schools across the Plateau territories of Fizi , Uvira and Mwenga with Eben Ezer and Children in Crisis. Gifota always gave his time to patiently guide and advise school principals; he respected and listened to everyone regardless of which community they belonged to, which family or tribe they hailed from.

 

Musore (in red) never let the route defeat him

Musore (in red) never let the route defeat him

Musore Fidele

An exceptionally experienced Driver who could navigate unimaginably bad roads during all seasons. Musore gave himself to his work. He knew that the success of our education programmes depended on his ability to navigate the roads. He never left his work station, always had a smile and regardless of the weather or the lateness of the hour, was always prepared.

Reverend Pastor Ngeremo Amedee

A member of the Board of Eben Ezer, he did theological studies and was a Pastor of the 5th CELPA Church. He was much loved by his parishoners and known for his spirit of non-discrimination and compassion. He was responsible for the ecclesiastical district in the highlands (2006 and 2O11) and member of the Board of Eben Ezer (2000 – 2011).

Opiyo Gitando: stepfather to the driver, Musore, pastoralist.

Nabisage Giselle: a young female student at the start of her academic career.

Two people, Antoine Munyinginya and Mrs Roda were both seriously injured, but survived the attack. It is thanks to specialized treatment and the amazing care given in England by Doctors and Nurses at the Alexandra Hospital that Antoine survived the attack and is well on the road to recovery.

Eben Ezer extends our sincere thanks and immense gratitude to all those who supported us at our time of need. We are thinking in particular of our partners, Children in Crisis and of individuals, James Thomspon, who stood by us. We are thinking of the countless other people, strangers to us, who were touched to help.

 

Our on-going call for Justice:

Despite enduring efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice, this has so far eluded us.  Appeals continue to be made with the Military Prosecutor, High Court Prosecutor’s Office, Office of MONUSCO (Human rights and Humanitarian Affairs), National Police and OCHA, among others. We are encouraged by the initiatives of the Military Prosecutor of Uvira, with support from the Office of the United Nations (MONUSCO), to conduct investigations at the site where the attack took place in Kalongwe, although the results of this survey are not yet published.

We urge the Congolese Government to recognise the commendable acts of humanitarian heroes and engage effectively in the search for the perpetrators of this despicable crime. The silence observed from the various State Departments seems to us to dismiss the severity of the crime and feed the culture of impunity.

Within the humanitarian sector, the massacre is regularly discussed. Civil society is in no way divided – the attack that took place on 4 October, 2011 was of innocent people undertaking a humanitarian mission who were killed on the grounds of their ethnicity.

We urge all human rights activists to continue to demand justice, and to follow the logic of Human Rights Watch, who reported the massacre, when demanding that:

“The Congolese government should not use new abuses in the region as an excuse to ignore atrocities elsewhere’’ Bekele, Director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

“To ensure that the perpetrators of appalling crimes are brought to justice is a necessary part of broader efforts to end abuses in the troubled region. Although there have been other incidents of ethnic violence in the region, the attack on October 4, 2011 was significant because of the obvious ethnic grounds and the large number of casualties, according to Human Rights Watch.

Tragically, our colleagues were victims of this massacre because of their ethnicity, yet they were agents of peace. They walked the mountains in all weathers, across all terrains. They crossed major rivers and swamps, climbed steep mountains, for all children of different tribal communities to live in peace and have access to quality education. They knew education was the key that unlocks the door to a better future for children, the Congolese nation, why not the whole world.

Dare we to suggest that this crime was part of a logic to discourage and halt development across the Plateau Territories of Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga, we’d be wrong. This logic will not succeed since the blood of these humanitarian heroes is manure for peace and sustainable development for the country.

 

Click here to learn more about Children in Crisis and Eben Ezer Ministry’s continuing work in DR Congo.

Children in Crisis announces that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

Donate button graphic

Amy Parker – in memory of Eraste, Tite, Musore and Gifota

4 Oct

“Two years on from the tragedy that struck Children in Crisis and Eben Ezer on October 4 2011, I continue to be astonished, sad, immensely proud, frustrated and full of hope all at once.”

 

I have made some extraordinary journeys to and on the Plateau this year. I walked for 11 days across the Marungu high Plateau with my two colleagues from Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI), Rubyagiza and Pastor Samson. We were carrying out workshops with different communities, speaking to girls, boys, women and men, and learning about the change the Children in Crisis / EMI education programme has brought about over the last 6 years.

Another trip was to Kisombe village on the Bibokoboko mid Plateau where we are constructing our tenth school, Bora Primary School. Two years on from the tragedy that struck Children in Crisis and Eben Ezer on October 4th 2011, I continue to be astonished, sad, immensely proud, frustrated and full of hope all at once.

I am astonished every day at the courage and determination of our Congolese team. The massacre of seven Banyamulenge, including four of our project team; Eraste, Tite, Musore and Gifota, rocked us to the core. And yet the team not only continue to deliver an extremely comprehensive teacher training, community awareness-raising and school construction programme, we are also constantly striving to improve ourselves through listening to and learning from what people on the Plateau tell us about their priorities and continuing challenges.

I am sad because four of our original team are not able to see what the work they started now means to the development of the Plateau and the hope of people living there. My visit to Bora Primary School was especially poignant; this was a school I had visited with Eraste just one month before his senseless murder and it was my first time back. A village made up primarily of women widowed during the war in 1996, their first words to me were of condolence for my loss.

Children welcome us to their new primary school in the DR Congo

Children welcome us to their new primary school in the DR Congo

I am immensely proud that we are working with three communities this year in our school building programme, including constructing Bora Primary School. We will work with a further three communities next year and the one after bringing the total number of primary schools rebuilt or rehabilitated since 2007 to 18; something no other organisation has been able to do in an area still so isolated from the rest of the country.

I am frustrated at the fact that this continued isolation impacts negatively on Plateau communities and especially children; families live precariously on the line between abject poverty and a hopeful future. I can honestly say that I have never met children so thirsty for education and mothers so determined for a better future for their children. Communities here have lived for decades without any external support, building up a resilience I expect I will never see anywhere else in the world. In spite of tough times, I am always welcomed by people with open arms, wide smiles and raucous laughter, brimming with ideas and I feel hopeful.

We are coming to the end of the second phase of our education programme. We have come so far and yet there is so much more to be done with the Plateau communities. We will continue to work with primary schools; the changes that have taken place since 2006 are amazing, but still more support is required to build on the improvements to date. Secondary schools are knocking on our door having had no support since the 1980s. Economic development is extremely difficult in an area with so little infrastructure, yet changes are afoot with an internet connection in Minembwe and rumours of a mobile mast there too. We are planning to work with communities to look at how we can support income generation and skills development.

The current EMI team

The current EMI team

There is peace at the moment on the Plateau. A very fragile peace following decades of, often externally motivated, conflict. A peace that could pave the way for a happy and prosperous future for the children with whom we work. A peace that needs to be supported and nurtured through positive, community-driven actions bringing together all people, young and old, male and female and a true melting pot of ethnic communities. Everybody working together for a Plateau to be proud of.

Our work on the Plateau has always been about supporting the most vulnerable children to achieve their potential. The events of October 4 2011 brought another dimension to the project. Children in Crisis and EMI continue to push and work with Congolese and UN bodies in the pursuit of justice for our murdered friends and we are encouraged by the fact that an official investigation has recently been carried out. It is in the memory of Eraste, Tite, Musore and Gifota that we will continue to strive for a Plateau free from fear and hatred and instead, full of hope and compassion built on mutual respect.

Learn more about Children in Crisis’ work in DR Congo, by clicking here.

We push for justice in the DR Congo

17 May

“Were the lives of our dear colleagues and the three other passengers that perished with them really worth so little? It is almost unthinkable.”

 – Sarah Rowse – Director of Programmes.

In October 2011, in one of the worst attacks against humanitarian workers in eastern DR Congo, four members of our local partner NGO Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI) were murdered as they travelled up to schools on the remote Plateau. Here our Director of Programmes, Sarah Rowse writes about her recent visit to Kinshasa, and Children in Crisis’ pursuit of justice for our dear friends and colleagues.

I travelled to Kinshasa, the capital city of Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), at the end of March with our partners from EMI, Reverend Muvunyi Samson and Dr Lazare Sebiterereko. Although I’ve worked and travelled extensively in eastern DR Congo since 2005, it was my first time to the capital city and as far removed from the rural isolation and savage beauty of eastern Congo as one could imagine.

Our visit was laden with import. Since the brutal murders of our much missed colleagues, Eraste, Tite, Musore and Edmond as they travelled en route to the Plateau to conduct programme activities in schools and communities last October, there has been no enquiry into their murders – no attempt by the Congolese authorities to gather evidence.  Six months after one of the worst attacks against humanitarian workers in the history of eastern DR Congo, and nothing. Were the lives of our dear colleagues and the three other passengers that perished with them really worth so little? It is almost unthinkable.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The goal of our trip was to push for an independent investigation to take place in relation to the October 2011 massacre of our colleagues, and in doing so, meet with embassies, UN agencies, NGOs and donors to seek their backing and support in our pursuit for justice.

Former Vice President Azarius Ruberwa, who was part of a delegation from Kinshasa that attended the memorial ceremony for our colleagues in October, had organised high level meetings with the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, the Military Prosecutor, the European Union, US Embassy, and others. Another Senator Maitre Moise, a lawyer was on hand throughout the week to help Children in Crisis and EMI in presenting the case to the judicial authorities.

We met with the UN Secretary General’s special representative Leila Zerrougi (head of MONUSCO, the UN stabilisation force), and was encouraged by the news that she is pushing hard on the criminal case. Following our meeting with him in Kinshasa, the Attorney General has also instructed the general prosecutor to open a civil case.

This is all encouraging. It is evidence that, no matter how slowly, action is being taken into our colleagues’ murders, but we know that there is a long way to go to seek justice in a country where crimes go unpunished and perpetrators of violent acts enjoy an unparalleled level of impunity.

When I first interviewed for the job at Children in Crisis back in 2004 I was asked the question, ‘justice or democracy?’ My answer at the time was that if one can’t have both, then justice is paramount. Never have I felt such commitment to my response as I boarded the plane on return from Kinshasa six-weeks ago.

We have a tough road ahead of us but will continue to push in honour of our colleagues. Peace and reconciliation in DR Congo can only be built on a foundation of justice and respect for human rights.

On behalf of Children in Crisis, EMI and the families and communities with whom we work in DR Congo, I remain enormously grateful for the kindness and support of Children in Crisis’s friends and supporters during what has been an immensely difficult time. We will keep you updated.