COFAPRI for Sustainable Development through Education in the Rural DR Congo
By Mugisho Ndabuli Théophile, Founder/Exec. Director, COFAPRI. October 2014.
Shaping the way toward a sustainable future
When parents are educated, they want the same for their children. Parents send their children to school because they expect them to live well in the future, they want them to acquire attitudes, skills, notions and values that will open the gate to a better life – these are the notions that endow them with ways to future sustainable development and respect of human and animals’ rights and the protection for the ecosystem.
If women are educated, the villages will also develop.
“Our villages around us here will not be developed until we can see a big number of our sisters, daughters, aunts, wives and mothers becoming self-dependent; ie they have been to school and now they are working and make their lives and help their families.
This is what sustainable community development is all about; this is what measures how much our villages are developed. The more women and children are educated, the better we hope our future will be.”
Bahati Valerie, Cofounder and Executive Secretary of COFAPRI
When educated children grow mature, they will have matured and invested in ways of helping themselves, assisting their parents and relatives, claiming their rights nonviolently and in general, been helpful to themselves and their community.
Thus, education for individuals, families, communities, and national sustainable development allows every person – no matter their gender, status, colour, origin and age, to do something to lift their community from underdevelopment.
The latter is due to lack of information, formally or informally. People who feel the strong and immediate need to promote the welfare of the future generations to walk on the way toward shaping a sustainable future have to take that way, and they do so in different ways.
This is the way in which COFAPRI has embarked with the women and children in rural DR Congo.
COFAPRI members speak out
“We want our future to be meaningful because it is important to be shaped through education. We educate children to make them become mindly powerful as they can respect their neighbor, respect trees and animals, know how to calculate and speak foreign languages, learn how to play with other children without harming, insulting, or abusing them – and one person cannot do this.
We have to unite forces, meet the people we need to support and exchange opinions.
The future does not exist if the present has been abolished. You and I make that future for I alone am useless and you alone cannot do anything. So uniting forces for the same objective will help us trace a way in the forest where everyone will walk fearlessly.
This is the way human beings and animals will walk, even trees will make fall their leaves on that way because fear has gone.”
M’ Muhorho Alice.
“Today you can see you are educating one child but this child will help many others too.
Make the way for your children and they will walk in it with no fear because father and mother made it. Open the minds of your children by sending him/her to school and there they will acquire peace – peace of mind and peace of the land. We parents have to give to our children what we missed out. We missed this because our parents were unable to help and others just refused us to go to school because we were girls but we have to change this mind.
The school is there for that.”
Collaboration between parents and schools
In the rural DR Congo, the women and the children are very eager to get educated in life-lasting skills.
For them, education for sustainable development will help them learn important notions regarding development, making income-generating activities, reasons why the weather has become disturbed, ways to reduce poverty, how to manage and reduce risks of disaster, how to protect biodiversity and value human rights and of course, sustainable consumption.
This means that both the parents and the schools need to join hands for great achievement.
This in fact requires participatory teaching and learning methods that motivate and empower the women and the children to change their behaviour and mindset in order to take action for non-discriminatory and inclusive sustainable development.
“Thinking to help women and children through education will imperatively boost our aptitudes and abilities of critical evaluation and thinking. This will lead us toward imagining our future development in a setting where we can do in a respectful manner after having made our decisions in a family and community levels but together.
Once this has been done, we can feel that sustainable development has caused us the women some far-reaching changes in our minds and those of our children.
This is how we can certainly walk the way of education in a constructive manner.”
Empowering survivors of war rape
The fundamental targets behind educating the women and children in the rural DR Congo are not different from those that other people aim at. COFAPRI has embarked on a hard battle of reducing the effects of war rape on women and children.
Helping these women and their children forget about the atrocities they went through during the different wars the country has been experiencing since 1996 infers involving them in some development activities that can make them forget about their fate.
“Some of us are victims of war rape in these villages of ours. They suffer more than us who were not raped. But we, too, suffer in our own but different way. They have been wounded and they are discriminated in their families, which adds on to their many other burdens.
We live with lots of fears, shame, and suffering in silence; we target at getting out of this as a community. We suffered, we were raped by our children [soldiers], and we are the ones to find sustainable solutions to these plights.
If we do not, we shall be negligent and this may generate many more complicated issues that can be more dangerous as they will weigh our heads.”
“Our global aim is nothing else than targeting opportunities of scaling down our extreme poverty and suffering in which we live; we have to hit the heads and find ways for reducing child and maternal death rates in our villages and this is why we chose to go education. This education is part our association’s means of reducing our poverty and suffering.
However, the means we have for the moment are not enough. It is our, your, and my obligation to give to the children the positive things our parents gave to us as a legacy of education, but we can still do more and better because parents who think on ways of educating the future generations have seen that as far as this is a long-lasting and non-fading investment.
Therefore, education for individuals, families, can assist all our friends women and girls in these villages of ours.”
M’ Zagabe Mawazo.
Overcoming poverty and marginalization for education and sustainability
In fact, COFAPRI does not put a clear distinction between the various elements that hinder the women and the children from development in a sustainable way.
Connection exists between mothers’ poverty, children's and mothers’ education, and ways of reducing poverty and the promotion of sustainable development. These women and their children are poor and marginalized, and this has awfully affected them in an environment that is not caring.
“What breaks our hearts and discourages us is to see we are suffering together with our children in these villages here. We have to work hard in order to contribute a lot to poverty reduction through income generating activities; COFAPRI has opened us a way with the sewing, knitting, animals and now with business and is sponsoring the education of our children in schools.
With this, we are sure we are building what we shall leave to our children; we think in the future, we will also boost environment management in order upgrade animals and trees, grass environment.
As all my friends have said, this cannot be done in void; education is the right way to walk.”
Educational responses to poverty need to address the situation of rural women’s hardship; this becomes now relevant and purposeful in the context that it is the power of changing the lives of these rural women and children of the DR Congo.
COFAPRI is doing all they can in order to generate various potentials that can globally equip the women and the girls with the skills they need in order to see their livelihoods improved and is tremendously eager to see the women in the rural DR Congo embark on training in some technical and even vocational education.
This happens as war has made these women lose their first chance and so their second chance is the informal education in which they are involved.
Change of mindset
Poverty is matter of mind education; if a person believes they are poor, now this totally affects their whole person – and even overcoming poverty would fail in the longterm, without a change in mindset. Positive thinking is important in order for the person to overcome a given challenge.
Building on this, COFAPRI believes these women are poor today but tomorrow, they will be leading a better life.
It is thanks to education that people nurture constructive beliefs.
“Today we are sewing, knitting, rearing small animals and doing small businesses with the aim of keeping ourselves busy and so forget about the atrocities the war rape and domestic violence have caused us.
These are seriously hindering our development. We want to get educated in the different sessions we organize and so we can create our own employment opportunities and at the same time, we become able to effectively integrate our learned important knowledge.”
COFAPRI is a grassroots DR Congo organization. The DR Congo is a country where education is still discriminatory.
Here and there, you can see schools for girls and schools for boys, and others are mixed. I personally went to a school dedicated for boys only and all our teachers including the director were men. This depicts how discrimination builds on gender beliefs and attitudes in schools is both a cause and a consequence of entrenched inequality between men and women in the whole country.
The women and girls members of COFAPRI are destitute; they are living in abject poverty, to which is added the harmful effects of rape. The discriminatory traditional attitudes about women and girls, the women’s social status and role are elements that weaken their family and social power of claiming for their rights.
“We understand the need of gender balance; we do not want to take the power of men, but what we need is to remove these harmful practices such as early marriage and pregnancy, gender-based violence, and discriminatory education laws, policies, contents, and practices [all of which] still prevent millions of girls form enrolling, completing, and benefiting from education.
We will be happy when we see our daughters going to school and getting jobs, like their brothers – and men respecting us in our homes, as their partners.”
“The issue of education in this land is giving us a headache.
For us, gender needs to be integrated at all levels of education, from home to school passing by the paths in our villages; from early childhood to higher education, in formal and non-formal settings and from planning infrastructure to training teachers.
When this will occur, the women of Congo and those of the world will say the hard work has produced positive effects.”
COFAPRI is working hard to encourage the same chances to education for both boys and girls in the villages of the DR Congo and at the same time, help them get free of any form of discrimination based on gender in schools.
Girls share their gratitude
“We are going to school now and we thank you the people for helping us. Now we dream that one day there will be promotion of gender equality in national education laws, policies, and plans – and that boys and girls will go to the same school, wear the same clothes and have the same hair on their heads.“
Irenge Murhima, Cihanda girls primary school.
“You have helped us a lot. We want to live in a school environment that seeks ways to develop admittance to learning chances, in particular for us girls and our young mothers, in both formal and non-formal education in our villages.
This for sure will develop and spread in the villages thanks to the good will, if there is one, and the capacity of our education policy-makers, planners, teachers, and other education people who are eager to promote gender-sensitive attitudes.”