DRC : An Oxfam's project to improve a primary School involves all the community.
The diversity in the children’s answers in this project is a fair sign to me that we do “work with others to overcome poverty and suffering”; that the school and the community do participate in our projects.
The 3rd Form at KIMBANSEKE VI Primary School counts 37 pupils on a day when the attendance list is full, one teacher’s assistant and one head teacher. I learn this when I meet Alphonse BUZOBA, who has been the head teacher of this class for four years now, and in the profession of teaching at school level for 44 years!
At around 11:30 Alphonse introduces me to his class, who are all sitting on the grey cement floor, apart from a group of six boys at the back of the room, seated on the only couple benches in the class. They appear to be the oldest children.
Throughout my conversation with each pair, my questions are simple ones that I know they will be able to answer.
“My name is Yao,” I begin. “I take pictures with my camera. What is your name?”
“My name is Makitu.”
“My name is Kesu.”
“When I am grown up, I want to be a merchant,” responds Makitu.
“I want to be a mechanic when I grow up,” answers Kesu.
I engage the boys by mentioning the end-of-the-year celebration and asking if they know what it is. Both say yes, although Makitu with more assertion.
“My mother bought me clothes,” Makitu tells.
“I got nothing,” Kesu reveals, not seeming ashamed.
I cannot say that Kesu’s reply makes me suddenly grasp the poverty that exists in the community to which Kimbanseke VI belongs or become conscious of how this poverty affects a school that lacked a cement floor, a blackboard, benches, notebooks and textbooks six months ago.
In the moment we are sharing today, I can make certain that I do not overlook Kesu’s words, by asking, “Do people celebrate the New Year with new things…different things? Is there anything new here at your school?”
Kesu replies, “They fixed the toilets and schools. They put new roofing.”
“Who are ‘they’?” I wonder aloud.
“People,” says Kesu.
“Yes, that’s right! People.” I pause before asking, “But who are these people?”
“Is that all the people?”
“The masons,” Makitu says, after some thought.
Later on, when I meet with two girls from Alphonse’s 3rd Form – Lioni aged 8 and Matondo aged 7— and reach the same stage in our conversation, they mention the school headmaster as being the ‘people’ who fixed the school. The diversity in the children’s answers as a whole is a fair sign to me that we do “work with others to overcome poverty and suffering”; that the school and the community do participate in our projects.
“How is your school going to stay pretty and clean now?” I say in a wondrous tone.
“We’ll wash. We’ll sweep,” replies Lioni enthusiastically.
During their recreation time, I watch from a distance the children playing in the open area of sand that fills the space next to the school building. And recap the conversations that have just taken place between them and I. Indeed, there are truths the children shared with me that I didn’t respond to in the immediate, but that I can now ponder. “If I’m not sent [on an errand], I study a lot,” Kesu told me. “Secondary school? I’m not sure [I will attend it] because school fees bother us a lot. My older brother reached the 6th Form and had to stop,” he went on to share with me.
The fact is, in the DRC, only 52% of school-aged children are going to school, with 75% of these dropping out before the Fifth year.