The situation has been appalling for quite some decades.... Without education, boys will likely join the militia and the outcome will be that new wars will occur. Many of the girls will become involved in selling their bodies for survival...
Hunger and Poverty as Barriers to Education
By Bahati Valerie, Executive Secretary and Cofounder/COFAPRI
Photo by COFAPRI ©
Education is an extremely important tool for our children to fully develop. In order to make education more effective, it has to be imparted into children at early age so that they can grow in and with it. It is in this vein that children must be motivated to go to school, as this is where they will find out what interests them in real life and develop related aptitudes in order to make sure that they have the right preparation for future life.
However, many children are not going to school in rural DR Congo because the parents cannot afford the fees; they are poor, and others do not send the children to school due to discriminatory beliefs.
COFAPRI wants to break these barriers by helping children in rural DR Congo to have access to school education, as this will help them a lot in thinking critically. At school, they can learn to make informed choices. For example, education can help children to break the cycle of discriminating and abusive behaviour patterns.
In addition, education can provide the youths with a common knowledge, to communicate with other people around them in a friendly way, to share a wish of building and working together as a team in their families and communities.
''I never saw the chalk board but I guess it is great to see it. I don’t want our children to become slaves, as we have become in these villages. Men never allow us to think and decide. It pleases me to see our children are getting educated now, though it is still at the beginning. But the way I see gives me more hope. I never studied but I think at school, our children will be able to learn how to grow up and support themselves, and also support us [others clap their hands].
OK now listen, it is not all. Again, they will learn ways of thinking and so not become discriminating against women and girls, and any other person they can meet. And also I am sure school will open their eyes to love their villages, communities and the country, which can hinder them from joining militia. From this I can guess that when they become mothers and fathers, they will have the skills they need to be successful in their lives.
I want to see my daughters and sons managing their money well and when they become old they do not suffer as people do here.'
M’ Lutwambugu, whose child is sponsored by COFAPRI.
In the DR Congo, education is not available for everyone. The children suffer emotionally when they see others going to school. Due to this, these children can be coerced to join militias as they are not schooled. The children born of rape are particularly vulnerable. The few children who go to school do not all complete their studies. The majority of them drop out along the way. The reasons for this are too many and varied.
As I have been touring the rural areas to meet women and children of COFAPRI, I have gathered some reasons behind children's drop outs in the rural Congo.
"Many of my friends no longer go to school like me because we have no money to give to teachers and to buy notebooks. If we cannot get food to eat, how do you think we can get money for school? There are others who do not go because of hunger; sometimes we eat one time a day and other times, we go to beg food in our neighbours’ houses."
"Even if you force yourself to go, you will be tired along the way because schools are not near here. When you are tired, you return back home. You do this two times, four times they chase you from school. The only way that remains is to struggle for life. I can easily join fighters in order to make my life. We have no other choice in these villages."
"I am a girl and my family is very poor. Before I was going to school but today I cannot go as we have no money. We are a family of six and we need to live. I am the eldest and I must ‘boil’ my brains so that we can survive. We need people to help us to go back to school."
"Me, I have never been to school and I do not know how it looks like there. I wish I went, but no way. I think I have to become a soldier. When they give me a gun I will know how to survive. Here no one cares about us; so everyone has to make their way."
Others dropped out of school due to the long distances they cover to reach school. Walking long distances while hungry can even kill a person. Hungry, the children go to school. They are hungry as they rarely eat at school. In the end, they fail in class and finally they quit school.
The situation has been appalling for quite some decades and this should be addressed. COFAPRI has been helping 86 children born of rape, but this is not the number of all the children in the villages who need schooling. They have that desire but they lack means. If this is not addressed as soon as possible, the boys will likely join the militia and the outcome will be that new wars will occur. Many of the girls, on the other hand, will become involved in selling their bodies for survival, ignoring all the corollary of consequences behind such practice. One child speaks out for many:
'I cannot accept to suffer a lot. I will meet others in the bush and we fight. They neglect us because we are children and we have no fathers. It is better to fight them because this is the only way the children can go since no one ever talks about us in the villages where we live. We have no fathers as some have been killed and our mothers are now suffering with us helplessly. We do not even think we will survive.
If it is you, when you see that others go to school, eat well, buy things, and you, you are there; can you really feel ok?'
Despite the fact that some of these children are desperate, many others are still hopeful the future can bring something new and helpful. COFAPRI is striving to help these children keep hope, - not to think of revenge, but rather see ways of overcoming the hardship of their circumstances. I have told them:
'My dear children, I know how much you have been affected by the wars in this country. You should not give room for hatred or discouragement in your hearts. I think my presence among you means a lot. We never come to visit you just for the sake of it; we always come close to you with the hope that we shall share ideas, discuss challenges, and find solutions together.
We are struggling hard to help you. Never discourage yourself or those who are helping you. The more you show hope and commitment for change, the more we hope things will change.'
I provided them with lots of advice as to never give up or take destructive ways, for the future is theirs. I urged them to tell their parents to join COFAPRI and together we can see what to do. Losing the youth because of poverty or neglect is very damaging for the person, the family and the community at large. There is something we can still do to address this issue. The government and local organizations can unite force and help these children.
There is no future without youths and this future depends on how well we will have prepared these children to be leaders.
Education remains the only way we have to move our children forwards and break the cycles of war, violence, discrimination and poverty.