Written by Jean de Dieu Muhindo, Education Manager, Save the Children
School should have started again in the last few weeks. Children should have been filling the streets – making the familiar journey with their friends to their morning classes.
Sadly, for hundreds of children in this region, the new school year is now out of reach.
My name is Jean de Dieu Muhindo and I manage our education programmes in an area called Kitshanga, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
I was born and grew up in Goma – a town that has become infamous in the last few weeks for violence and mass displacement. For me, it has always been home and I’ve lived and worked here for Save the Children for over 15 years.
Future forever impacted
When people think of a humanitarian crisis, they think of health and nutrition – rarely do they consider education. However, with parents being forced to flee their homes and leave their livelihoods behind as a result of the recent violence, they’ll find it extremely hard to pay for school fees.
Sadly, once a child stops going to school they’re much more likely to never return. This fighting may stop, but their future will be forever impacted.
After working on education in emergencies for many years, I’ve seen how the stability and routine of school during turbulent and terrifying times can make a dramatic difference to children’s ability to survive and recover.
When out of school and left at home, children are a great risk of abuse and exploitation.
Huge uncertainty in Goma
Goma is a strange place to be at the moment – there’s huge uncertainty, UN helicopters thunder overhead, and banks and stores are only just opening again.
Criminals have escaped from the local prisons and there is a big fear of looting. Due to the insecurity, we cannot leave our houses after 7 pm.
The days are extremely busy – I find myself torn between ensuring our ongoing projects in the area continue to run successfully and responding to the new huge education needs.
The team is now working flat out to assess the new education needs and respond to them.
Clear needs amid chaos
Despite these challenges, my team have already carried out rapid assessments, which revealed schools have been vandalised, with desks broken or used as firewood, and textbooks and school cantines looted.
Some clear reasons for the closure of schools have emerged in the last few days – firstly there is a fear that children will be forcibly recruited or conscripted by the armed groups.
Secondly, it’s unclear who will pay the teachers now the local government are no longer in control of Goma.
Lastly, the chaos and uncertainty may be making children too scared to come to school.
There are many threats to a child’s education in this region right now – but it makes us no less determined to respond.
Next week we will start to repair some of these schools, delivering the books, pens and other items to get classes up and running again – reaching over 1,600 children.
Being able to work with and for children is a great privilege – I’ve done it for 15 years in this part of the world and I’ll continue to do it through this latest crisis.
In such troubled times, education can give a glimmer of hope for the future.
Please donate to our work so these children don’t miss out on education – their futures are in the balance