This is an architect's impression of the new school which COFAPRI is planning to build for the local children.
Building a Village School
We believe that by providing children with education, opportunities become available outside their current situation, as it then becomes a tool for development and self-dependence.
COFAPRI has ambitions to engage all the people in rural areas in education, with more focus on the youth. Helping the youth to get school education is building a solid foundation for a future community; this can successfully address discrimination, illiteracy and poverty for a brighter future.
We also aim to reconstruct the cultural attitudes present in the DRC that have had negative outcomes. We believe that children in education not only gain self-confidence, but also internalise gender equality and the reality that they can live without the perpetration of discrimination and hatred.
COFAPRI has always hoped to start a school for children who don’t have access to education, many of whom are those born to raped mothers and who therefore suffer discrimination. These children are our priority.
However, many other children come from very poor families that cannot afford school education for their children due to poverty.
Moreover, the children who do go to school cover long distances to reach a school - they walk through valleys and cross rivers and forests, with the risk of being raped or abducted to join the militia who are still operational around the villages.
Parents have been repeatedly asking for the school, because they understand the risks the children go through by covering long distances to get to school.
We expect to have between 25 and 30 children in each class, with three classes to begin with. The majority of the pupils will be girls - as the majority of victims of discrimination are girls.
With the 3 classes to start with, the children will start from age 6 to 7 in primary one and will leave when they complete the six years of primary education, at around age 12 to 13). But there are also special children who are older than this required age frame. They failed to attend school due to poverty or discrimination. Their age might vary compared to the standard age to start school education.
As we'll begin with three classes, we'll need three teachers and a head teacher. Also an accountant, a gardener (also in charge of cleanliness at school) and a sentinel for security. Maybe also an auxiliary teacher to replace any absentee teacher in class. All these people will come from the village.
COFAPRI will run the school via a headmaster. The parents will also be involved in the school management.
COFAPRI will look after the school administration. There will be no rent to pay since COFAPRI will build the school on its own land.
As the COFAPRI school will start with three classes, the children will be helped by COFAPRI to enroll in secondary schools in the area. But COFAPRI plans to be building one classroom a year until there are six primary classes and six secondary classes and so all the children will be studying in the COFAPRI school premises.
Currently, COFAPRI is sponsoring the education (fees and school materials) of almost 100 children (96 for the moment).
COFAPRI is also involved in close collaboration with Sharon Multani, founder of the organisation It’s A Girl Thing. This amazing organisation is helping rural women and girls in the DR Congo to better understand ways to improve their living during their periods. It is in this way that they are distributed reusable FEMpads, bras and pants in order for them to improve their hygienic conditions. These FEMpads and pants are helping a lot of girls in school, as they no more miss classes and examinations during their periods. Before this support came in, many of the girls used to miss out classes and exams for almost a week, until their periods were over.
Soon, with sustainable support of Sharon, these women will be making their own FEMpads, as they already have a sewing centre.
COFAPRI is also collaborating with Thare Machi Education. This is an organisation that is also based in the UK. We are using their educational DVDs to help people constructively improve their behaviour patterns and living conditions; they also help the people to be aware of harmful diseases and ways to avoid them. The themes in the DVDs are various and are highly appreciated by the people who have watched them. In schools, the programme is very much liked by school leaders, as we often work with them on a weekly basis. It is the same in hospitals and health centres.
Challenges to education in DR Congo
The DRC government has done little to help the children born of rape and those born in destitute families; children born of rape have been discriminated against and have been abandoned.
This situation has the potential to dangerously escalate as these children may later join armed groups, thus continuing the cycle of conflict and sexual violence towards women. Others may choose to become bandits and thieves, which is still a social burden and the cause of more insecurity in the villages.
The mothers of these children remain neglected and are not involved in any education (formal or informal); the result is the inability to rebuild their lives following the adverse effects of the DRC’s ongoing conflict and domestic violence.
The average costs for primary school is USD $60 per academic year in rural areas (higher in cities). Secondary school costs around USD $120 per year. Boarding schools are available, but often parents are unable to afford the fee, which is approximately USD $1200 per year; boarding school allows children to study in better circumstances as they do not have to take the long (and sometimes dangerous) journey to and from school.
Education in the DRC is experiencing little momentum because it is parents who are charged with the responsibility of providing teacher salaries, both in public and private education.
Most of the children in rural areas cannot attend school as some families live with such high levels of poverty that they cannot pay school fees. In other instances, parents refuse to send their daughters to school due to the traditional belief that they will simply not perform well and instead would provide their parents with an unwanted financial burden.
Finally, schools are scattered in the mountains of the DR Congo. This makes it hard for younger children to attend school. They often go to school with no meal, the same when back. In such conditions, they also cover long distances on foot. So, many children abandon school because of famine and fatigue. Walking long ways in mountains and swamps is also risky because children can be kidnapped and be taken into militia, and young girls may be raped and taken to be sex slaves by fighters.