Tag Archives: DRC

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 – 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.

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.

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A chance to learn, a chance in life

9 Sep

“Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.”

In the first of a series of blogs about our 21st anniversary campaign, our CEO Koy Thomson highlights some of Children in Crisis’s achievements over the last 20 years.  Achievements only made possible because of the generosity and support of our donors and supporters.  We wanted to take the opportunity to thank you.  

John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

Koy Thomson (left of picture) meets John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

 

We are really excited to launch our 21st anniversary campaign ‘A chance to learn, a chance in life’ (#ChanceToLearn).

21 years is a coming of age, as with every birthday, we thought it’s important to take stock and reflect on what you’ve helped us achieve in the last two decades.

It is thanks to your desire to take a stand and do something in a world that is often chaotic and unfair that we have achieved so much.

With your help we have built more than 48 schools, trained more than 10,500 teachers and educated more than half a million children.

In Sierra Leone, we’ve provided vocational training to nearly 1,000 child soldiers, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo we have improved education for some 57,000 children in 50 schools and in Afghanistan nearly 500 women who missed education because of the war, graduated from vocational training and three-quarters of them have been able to set up livelihoods as a result.

It has been a long journey to our present focus on education and child protection. In the early years, we delivered safe water for 200,000 people in former Yugoslavia, provided medical assistance to 8,000 children in Russia and treated 6,700 children in Poland for cancer and chronic illness.  In Afghanistan, 10,000 children have been protected from abuse and mistreatment and over 100,000 street working and out of school children have receiving accelerated teaching.

Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.  Because resources are scarce the support must be long-lasting. Our aim is to improve the lives of children and their communities in some of the most remote, post-conflict territories by delivering sustainable education.

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

 

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

 

In total over the past 20 years with your help, we have reached and helped nearly 1.4 million children and their families.

Your support to these children’s education and protection has given them the best start for living a happy and healthy life. I have no doubt that because of you, they face a brighter, better future.

A huge thank you from us and all the children we have helped.  Without our supporters we couldn’t have done all this.

But some of our projects are under threat which is why we have launched an urgent appeal.  Ebola in West Africa and political transition in Afghanistan are having a direct impact on our work.

We need to adapt to the circumstances and play an active role in providing a preventative and protection response.  To fulfil our commitment so that children and communities can fulfil their dreams of receiving a quality education and to create and continue their small business enterprises to support their families.

But this needs resource and we really need your support.

It’s so important that the UK government’s UK Aid Match Scheme is supporting us between September and December.  Every pound raised from the British public will be doubled AND if you are a UK tax payer, we can benefit from Gift Aid too.  So your donation will work even harder and go even further.

Please help.  It’s really vital.

Thank you.

Please pledge your support, so that Children in Crisis can reach out to many more vulnerable children, and give them a chance to learn, a chance in life.

Follow #ChanceToLearn on twitter and facebook.

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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.

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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.