3 September 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: School Children Deplore Extended Holiday

Like most children, David Kulimuchi would rather play football with his friends than go to school. But now that he and his family were forced to flee, and his school has been destroyed in the eastern Congo civil war, he prays every day for a return to normal life - and a return to school.

Under normal circumstances, David Kulimuchi, a 10-year-old schoolboy in North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, would wish the summer holidays would never end. After all, who wants to walk to school through the autumn rain? And isn't playing football more fun than doing your homework?

But at the beginning of this school year he has other things to worry about. He can't go to school, even if he wanted to. Early July soldiers of the M23 anti-government insurgent group, who had until then controlled only an enclave on the border between Rwanda and Uganda, conquered a large part of the Rutshuru region.

Promise to Jesus

Like thousands of others, David and his family had to flee to escape the fighting. "My mother packed in a few minutes and we left our home. I was very scared. We walked for hours; it was exhausting," he recalls.

During the fighting, some schools have been destroyed or pillaged, while many others are used today as shelters for displaced people. A total of 258 schools are effectively out of order. As a result, some 60,000 children will have no school to go back to at the start of the school year on 3 September, according to UNICEF and other NGOs in North Kivu. Jean Metenier, the UNICEF head of office in North Kivu, says the organisation will strive to ensure that displaced children in refugee camps will receive education.

Sharing a small tent with his brothers and sisters in the Kanyaruchinya camp for displaced people, David prays for his family to return home to a normal life. That includes going to school. "I ask Jesus every day and I promised him that I will do my homework," the young boy says.

Recruitment

In Rutshuru, the territory under rebel control, the start of the school year is also a challenge. A few weeks ago, the M23 rebels set up a parallel administration and declared that they wanted to create a peaceful environment for the resumption of classes on 3 September.

"M23 is planning to provide security for everyone, including students. We hope that the schools will reopen. The curriculum will remain unchanged," says M23's Head of Education, Youth and Sports, Ali Musagara.

But while the school year has already started, concrete policies are yet to be formulated. Well acquainted with the M23 programme of recruiting young boys for the rebel army, Musagara evades with a smile the more technical questions on the teacher's salaries or the reconstruction of classrooms.

Ammunition depot

At the primary school in Bunagana, a border city controlled by M23, the regular Congolese army stole the textbooks and used the desks for firewood. Today, the ransacked classrooms are used as ammunition depots.

"We are not in touch with M23 or any NGO. No one proposed any solution as to how we should teach without textbooks or blackboards.

Many of our pupils and even some of our teachers are in displaced persons camps," says Innocent Sebarimba, the school's vice-principal.

Most pupils are still to receive their 2011-2012 school reports. "We did not have the resources to complete the third term," says Antoine Kamunugundu, a high school teacher. "Those who did not do well in the first and second terms will have to repeat the class," he insists. Teachers remain strict, even in times of war.

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