Born out of rape, years of missing school – now Claudine’s story gives hope to girls in DRC
With International Women’s Day being marked on March 8, we asked Annette Scarpitta – US representative for AMCAV – to write a guest blog about some of the challenges girls face in getting an education in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here she tells the story of Claudine and the wider issues in the DRC.
Claudine in her first year at primary school
Claudine is a young teenager born of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Until a few years ago, when an education programme was set up in the volatile Ruzizi Plain of DRC by the Association of Christian Mothers for Assistance to the Vulnerable (AMCAV), Claudine had never attended school.
When she first entered AMCAV’s programme, Claudine was quiet and soft spoken – as you would expect from a young girl who had been ostracised and kept from attending school her entire life. Yet as the first months went by, she slowly began to excel in her studies.
After her first year of enrollment, Claudine had scored so highly on her exams that authorities determined she should skip the next grade (6) and go directly to grade 7. She excelled there too. Then tragedy struck.
First, the hut where she and her family lived burned down, forcing them to relocate to another project-supported community. Her mother was then raped again – leading her to abandon Claudine and her siblings so as not to inflict the same on her family.
Claudine, then in middle school, visits her old primary
Claudine was living with a family acquaintance and was suddenly exposed to a high risk of falling victim to the same forces that keep millions of girls out of school throughout DRC – sexual violence, forced labour and early forced marriage. At this point, AMCAV’s team stepped in and brought Claudine to the nearest town, where the quality of education is much higher than in the villages. She still lives there today with a trusted family and is continuing with her studies.
Claudine dreams of becoming a journalist and works hard to overcome the disadvantage she faces coming from a lesser education system in a rural area. Her story is telling of the situation faced by millions of girls in DRC. Yet, sadly, most are not as fortunate as Claudine to have found a way over these barriers.
She writes (translated from French): “I say thank you to all the people of good will that support vulnerable children like me for the advancement of their education in DRC. Thanks to the education you have provided to me, I will be one of the great helpful women of society and I will never forget to support the children in the same category as myself.”
The education project that helped Claudine is run by AMCAV, a small but effective Congolese NGO that provides counselling, social reintegration and income-generating activities. Most of the vulnerable families they serve are victims of sexual violence and face harsh discrimination daily – as do most girls in the region. But seeing the progress that girls like Claudine are achieving is changing this negative perception of girls’ education. Authorities in the region have even begun spreading the word that families should send all their children to school – especially girls.
Claudine at the town school where she is now enrolled
However, millions of boys and girls are still denied their right to education in DRC – 3.5 million primary school-age children are out of school. Reaching all these children needs to become a priority! But the effort has to take different shapes and scopes. DRC needs to continue with education reform and maintain commitment to a comprehensive plan for achieving universal education.
AMCAV is a member of A World at School’s Global Faiths Coalition for Education and supports the #UpForSchool Petition to create pressure on world leaders to prioritise education in countries like DRC – where I have personally witnessed the destructive impact of poor education access and quality. The more signatures we get, the closer we are to achieving the needed reform!
On the other end of the scale, the global community has to increase support for small programmes like AMCAV, which can transform the lives of those who are hardest to reach, like Claudine. AMCAV continues to run programmes in three schools. But we know that there are more children in the region who we cannot serve because of the programmatic challenges we face, including family members of students currently enrolled in AMCAV’s schools.
AMCAV faces infrastructural challenges such as a lack of electricity, connectivity and phone service. We are also hampered by cultural divides and shortcomings in organisational capacity – obstacles that can surely be overcome with a more robust reporting structure and management training. As a representative for AMCAV I have come to see the challenges and the potential of this programme. With the right support I am confident we can continue to secure the right of DRC’s most vulnerable children to education – one by one.