Kinshasa — New clashes in the North Kivu province have more than doubled the total number of schools affected by conflict this year to over 600, UNICEF said today. At least 240,000 students have missed weeks of schooling as a result of the conflict since April. In the aftermath of the recent fighting that led to the displacement of more than 130,000 people, families and parties involved in the conflict have since September, occupied or looted some 250 additional schools in North and South Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In past weeks, many of those fleeing the violence found refuge in schools that were used as kitchens, canteens, dormitories, military barracks or ammunition storage places. In almost all conflict-affected classrooms, school furniture has been partially damaged or totally destroyed. Textbooks and school benches have even been used as firewood. However, now children and teachers are slowly going back to school. UNICEF announced that children started receiving new school kits distributed by local partners last week.
"Last month access to education in Eastern DRC has gone from bad to worse", stated Barbara Bentein, UNICEF Representative in DRC. "Some schools that had already been affected in April haven't fully recovered yet. And now in other schools, the recent fighting has deprived Congolese children from access to education. Bringing them back to school is vital to their protection - especially in troubled times. When not at school, children from North Kivu are more at risk of being exploited, abused and even recruited."
"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 may have difficulties to catch up and take their exams. They may even lose their entire school year or drop out. Every hour counts. Together with partners, we are in the process of ensuring that all schools are open and functioning as quickly as possible", added Mr. Maker Mwangu Famba.
By the end of this year, 80,000 children from North Kivu will urgently receive school kits currently being distributed by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF partners, as schools resume their activities.
Many displaced families who began returning home are scared to send their children back to school. UNICEF calls on all the parties involved in the fighting to vacate school buildings and ensure safe access to education for children.
"As a parent, I was very worried that my children's education would be delayed during this crisis. So I'm delighted to see classes start again", said Arthur Mwanati Mudimba, father of six school-aged children. "However, the war has reduced my economic activities. If the situation doesn't improve rapidly, it will difficult for me to provide for my children's education", he added.
As part of its emergency response in Eastern DRC and in cooperation with the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Professional Education, UNICEF is planning to cover the educational needs of all 240,000 children and has appealed for nearly US$ 6 million to fund educational activities in North and South Kivu in the coming months.