660,000 children hit by DRC conflict are going back to school

Children in conflicts

Education in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been severely disrupted by two years of conflict and violence.

But this month children are returning to classrooms as part of the Back To School campaign, which will see 662,000 students resume their studies in safer parts of the country.

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF and partners including the Global Partnership for Education have been distributing education supplies to about 400,000 children, including pencils, exercise books and backpacks.

The new school year began in late November but the return to school is being phased in gradually. UNICEF’s Madeleine Logan wrote in a January 2 blog that the organisation is working with teachers, parents and the DRC government to rebuild and rehabilitate schools and transform them into places where children feel safe.

She wrote: “School is the only place where seven-year-old Valerie feels safe. She tells me that when she’s outside playing, she remembers the day her father was shot by a stray bullet in the street. When she’s trying to sleep at home, she has flashbacks to nights filled with the sound of gunfire.

“It’s only in class that she can remember what life was like before violence gripped Central African Republic. She says that at school, she gets the chance to learn something new.”

The two years of conflict between governmnet forces and rebels have affected more than two million children and almost 60% of school buildings were still closed at the end of the school year last July. Many school buildings were damaged, looted or taken over for other purposes. When the violence increased a year ago, many teachers and students had to leave their schools and many parents lost their sources of income and could not afford basic school materials.

But schools are now reopening, mainly in the safer western and southeastern regions. 

Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in Central African Republic, said: “The reopening of schools is a ray of hope for children who haven’t entered a classroom for months and even years. Where it’s safe, children can and should go back to school. Where it’s too dangerous, we do all we can so they can learn – even without a formal classroom.”

In areas deemed insecure, children are unlikely to return to school immediately but will benefit from alternative learning methods developed by UNICEF and DRC’s education ministry.

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