SURVIVING AGAINST THE ODD: EDUCATION FOR RWANDAN REFUGEE CHILDREN DEEP IN THE JUNGLES OF EASTERN DRC.
“There is no school year here, we teach the children when there is peace, and try to cover as much material as we can, because we never know when the next wave of attacks may come to interrupt the studies, or heavy rains that come so strong that nothing can get done until it stops raining.” These are the words of one teacher inside the jungles of Eastern DRC, whose job is to try and educate the children of Rwandan refugees still living among the over 300000 Rwandan refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Despite the hardship and the constant threat of war, famine and diseases, the Rwandan refugee community in the DRC does everything possible to provide basic education to their children. The school system is rudimentary at best, and comprises of several mobile schools, due to the fact that there is no set space for school, because whenever danger approaches, the teachers’ first priority is to get the children to safety, and then start all over once they reach another safe location.
When it comes to the school materials, every basic item that can be used to educate the children is put to good use. One refugee representative told Duterimbere media that in order to make a black board, teachers mix old radio battery acid, charcoal and various tree liquids to keep it all together, they then pant a board and it serves as a black board, not as fancy as the ones most student in normal schools are used to, but it does the trick. As for children, except for the very little ones, each child is responsible for designing his or her own clipboard to write on, a process which is even more challenging, because it requires strength and patience, two qualities that are usually in short supply for a normal child, but these children are not normal children, making their own clipboard to write on, might be one the easiest things they find themselves doing. They only need a small metallic sharp object, and good sized piece of wood, and they pound and scratch the wood until they have a nice and smooth surface to write on.
The school program is a hybrid refugee made program that combines Rwandan and Congolese Curricula. This allows the teachers to make use of any materiel that becomes easily accessible to them based on the conditions on the ground. Despite the hardship, children who graduate out of this system have at least the basic elementary education, and the secondary education system faces the same amount of difficulties. As a matter of fact, some of the Rwandan refugee children who managed to reach the western world after having studied in these harsh conditions proved to be successful attending modern Universities, at times far exceeding the expectations, and going as far as excelling and surpassing those who grew up in the new world they find themselves in. After arriving in Canada, and not even having completed her secondary education yet, one girl is said to have gone through high school and the University and became a Medical Doctor after a mere 5 years.
Ever since the destruction the refugee camps in 1996 the focus has been on the political side of what happened back then, and still continues today, but rarely the world has dared to look at the human impact of what is being done to the generations of children who were born in this chaos. As the International players proved that they don’t want anything to do with what happens to the Refugees in Eastern Congo, most often people fail to notice the fact that even those who managed to get far from danger after the long death march(INZIRA NDENDE) chose forgetting those they left behind as a coping mechanism. “My mother told me that the best way for me to succeed and live happily in France is wipe out the memory of everything I have seen as a child, and try no to look at images of the past. She also believes that having any interest in what goes in Congo is a waste of time” A young lady who survived to long death march as a little child told Duterimbere media, lamenting that she did know how to help Rwandan refugees in Congo, adding that she has a hard time feeling the responsibility towards those children since she felt that she is French and Rwandan problems don’t have any impact on her own life. Another young Rwandan in Belgium, a boy this time, told Duterimbere media that his Father believes that helping people in Congo is a crime that may bring down the apocalypse on his entire family. Both these young people are wrong, but through no fault of their own. Anyone who studied proper psychology understands that is it hardly a good idea to solves one’s emotional trauma by battling in deep inside, as the consequences tend to manifest later on in one self-destructive behavior after another. As to the idea that helping people in need can be seen as a crime by any government in the world, we can simply say, that those who still believe in such things haven’t noticed what the world has become in the last twenty years. With the arrival of the sort of technology that keeps different social groups interconnected, despite distance, the Rwandese Community at large, and the Refugee community in particular has no more excuse to be uninformed about what happens to the most vulnerable amongst them, unless it is done willfully.
Ever since AFERWAR-Duterimbere came to the forefront and established means by which the outside community can have accurate information on what is going on in Eastern DRC on the human rights and humanitarian situation, it has become clear that the young people who still harbor faded memories of what happened in Rwanda and Eastern DRC in the 90’s, are eager to get involved with helping those of their generation left behind, and the generations after them, but they still have a maze of political and social obstacles to walk through before they fully realize that it is up to them to force the international community into action in terms of helping those that were left behind in the jungles of Congo. The first step to this is to help who you can, when you can, however you can, and know that it is never wrong to do so. Louise MUKASINE Duterimbere media