Previously considered an oasis of peace, the region of Grand Kasaï had never experienced large-scale violence. Children were born and grew up without knowing what "war" meant.
When conflict erupted in August 2016, the dreams and future of a whole generation of children were destroyed, perhaps beyond salvation. In June 2018, we met three of them in the territory of Kazumba, more than 80 km west of Kananga, the capital of Kasaï-Central province. These are their stories.
More than a trauma
Seven-year-old Mutumbo lost both her parents in the war. They were slaughtered with machetes as the conflict broke out. Mutumbo fled and hid in the forest with her brothers. There, she unexpectedly encountered a bush fire and burnt her entire right foot. Lack of adequate treatment has left her physically handicapped.
"I miss my parents, I feel like I'm alone. I do not have anyone to take me to school," she tells us.
While her brothers are managing to keep food on their table, there are no funds left to pay for her school fees. Mutombo is just one out of 7.4 million children in DRC who are unable to attend school.
Dreams of becoming a teacher
Tshiela is nine years old and lives in Kazumba. Like Mutombo, Tshiela and her parents fled into the bush when the militia attacked her home village of Benembuyi. In the bush, she was bitten by mosquitoes and contracted malaria.
"I do not like war, because my brother was killed, and our house was burnt down." she says.
Today, Tshiela still struggles with the memories of what happened to her brother. Despite gradually getting used to his absence, Tshiela is still scared.
"Sometimes I have nightmares about war, and I get scared during the night. It often causes me insomnia," says Tshiela.
Tshiela was forced to drop out of school because of the conflict. Fortunately, some calm has returned to her area and has inspired new confidence in the province of Kasaï-Central, and Tshiela has returned to school.
In June 2018, we met her playing with her friends in the courtyard of Mwakajika Primary School, where she is about to be enrolled in her fourth year. With support from the Pooled Fund, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has built three new classrooms at the school. We have also provided new notebooks, pens, pencils and a small schoolbag for Tshiela and the other children.
After attending our accelerated learning classes, Tshiela can now speak a little French, and she dreams of becoming a teacher.
Misses his father
Fifteen-year-old Mputu lives in Mulungula, a small village in Kasaï -Central. He lost his beloved father during the war. After their family fled into the bush, Mputu’s father returned to their home to fetch food to bring to his family in hiding. Armed men shot him, and he died on the spot.
Like most children from the Grand Kasaï region, Mputu will never forget what happened to his father. “When I think about my father, I often start crying,” he says. When we visited his school in Bulelela, Mputu was in sixth grade, preparing for his final exams.
"I would like to continue with my studies, but my mother is not able to pay for my school fees," he says.
Since 2017, NRC has mainly been engaged in the territory of Kazumba to meet the needs of children affected by conflict in the Grand Kasaï region. With the support of the Pooled Fund, we built 30 new classrooms and provided notebooks, pens, pencils and pencil cases to more than 8,000 students in 40 schools. We have also trained more than 270 teachers in psychosocial support.