DR Congo

Never too late to learn

“I felt bad staying home while other children were in school. Sometimes, I had to work in my neighbour’s fields to get food to eat,” says Antoinette, 12, from Rutshuru territory in eastern DR Congo.

The long-running conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has had devastating effects on education. In many areas, the violence has caused schools to be abandoned, shut down or destroyed. Many children’s schooling has been interrupted, leaving them exposed to exploitation and abuse.

Now, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is rebuilding classrooms and organising catch-up classes, providing new hope for thousands of children in this war-torn region.

Antoinette attends NRC's catch-up classes at Tarika Primary School, North Kivu. In this video, she talks about her experiences.

100,000 children out of school

In March 2017, NRC and War Child UK conducted a study, which determined that there were almost 100,000 out-of-school children in Rutshuru territory, located within the Ebola-stricken North Kivu province. This figure is just a small fraction of the 7 million Congolese children between the ages of five and 17 who are out of school across the country as a whole, according to UNICEF.

Antoinette, now 12, was one of these young children. Like many children in her home village of Ntamugenga, she had to drop out of school because her father had no money to pay for school fees.

Antoinette’s situation was not uncommon because Rutshuru was made up mostly of farmers who depended on their harvests for their livelihoods. Revenue from these crops paid for their children’s school fees, but the region’s conflict would change all of that. The frequent killings and kidnappings for ransom meant that farmers were reluctant to go to their fields for fear of being attacked. As a result, many parents became unable to afford to educate their children.

Students in North Kivu province celebrate the opening of Buhuri Primary School, built by NRC. Photo: Ephrem Chiruza/NRC

To respond to this situation, we have collaborated with the European Union (EU) to rebuild classrooms and organise free catch-up classes in North Kivu for out-of-school children and youth. This programme enables them to finish six years of primary education in three years through an accelerated education approach.

Catch-up classes provide a glimmer of hope

We met with Antoinette in July 2019 during our visit to Tarika Primary School, where she was attending catch-up classes run by the NRC.

Ideally, at her age, Antoinette should have already started secondary school. Unfortunately, because she had to drop out of school, she was behind for her age. NRC’s catch-up classes were therefore a great help for the young girl.

NRC's education coordinator shares a smile with Antoinette at Tarika Primary School in North Kivu, DR Congo. Photo: Ephrem Chiruza/NRC

“I felt bad staying home while other children were in school. Sometimes, I had to work in my neighbour’s fields to get food to eat,” she told us. “I am glad to receive NRC’s support. NRC helped me with notebooks, pens, pencils and a school bag. I like my school so much. I would like to become a teacher so that I can teach children.”

Antoinette is one of 3,600 students in Rutshuru territory that NRC has supported to access quality education in a safe and protective learning environment.

"Never too late to learn," says the sign outside Tshombo Primary School, one of the schools rebuilt by NRC in North Kivu, DR Congo. Photo: Ephrem Chiruza/NRC

Building classrooms and training teachers

“Before NRC built these classrooms, we used to have classes outside, under trees, and sometimes in the church when it rained. We encountered many problems,” explains Carine Ngulumiza, a teacher at Tarika Primary School.

“Now, we have adequate facilities built by NRC,” she continues. “And we have been trained to teach older children and youth.”

More funding is needed

This assistance is, however, a drop in the ocean when compared to the 100,000 out-of-school children in need of an education in Rutshuru. Funding from the EU has enabled us to assist only 4 per cent of these children.

"We need robust multi-year funding, like that provided by the EU, from other donors to support catch-up classes and accelerated education programmes, so that we can integrate more out-of-school children into schools and protect them from potential exploitation and abuse,” says Clémence Sebusanza, NRC Education Coordinator in North Kivu.

Read more about NRC's work in DR Congo