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If you can’t pay school fees, your children will miss out. It used to be as simple as that. But the clear and dignified voices of families from a remote village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been heard in high places, and their call for free primary education for their children has been endorsed and acted upon.
Ongoing violence, political instability, and high levels of corruption continue to plague warn-torn DRC – an environment that doesn’t make it easy to hold the local and national government to account. Yet, this story of courage and peaceful protest has achieved results, the impact of which could be felt across the country.
Working with communities in Bikoro, Equateur province, we created the space for women and men to identify their main problems and decide who they needed talk to change things for the better. One concern was that their primary schools were almost totally reliant on payments from parents to function. As well being an added expense for the family budget, it also meant that their children were not getting the education that they deserved.
The payment of fees had become the norm despite the constitution supporting free primary education. So the Bikoro Governance Group decided to raise their concerns with other parents, school directors and their local authority in a collaborative and non-confrontational way. Thanks to their approach, their local authority listened and helped to raise their concerns at a higher level. This led to a visit by the Provincial Education Minister and a subsequent meeting with the school director.
Their initial strategy was not to pay fees at all but, mindful of achieving a good outcome, they understood that they would need to negotiate. Their patient discussion resulted in an open discussion of the role of the state in funding education, and a desire to achieve a good outcome for all parties. The result: an agreement that parental contributions would reduce by 50% in 2017 and by 25% in 2018 - with the local authority picking up the rest of the costs.
This may seem like a small achievement but in the context of a fragile DRC where people have ceased to expect or demand anything from those in power, it’s a huge step forward. In ensuring diversity and equal representation at community meetings, Oxfam has helped to build a empowered group of committed people that will go on to tackle other obstacles and in all likelihood, get something back. This is an approach that, if future funding is secured, could have significant ripple effects across the country.