Tag Archives: South Kivu

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 – 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.