Goma, 30 June 2017 - The Great Lakes Region has witnessed one of the largest human migration situations on the African continent and, indeed, in the world. This is a result of the combination, over the past two decades, of generalised violence among the various groups under arms, inter-community conflicts and disputes for access to resources, the weakness of nation states and the absence of any mechanisms for guaranteeing the rights of the local populations.
The chronic humanitarian emergency in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the political and security crises in Burundi have created a dramatic deterioration in the affected population's daily lives and, in this context, not surprisingly, the fundamental rights of children take a back seat. Despite their importance, schooling and a stable educational environment can hardly be top of the priority list for families constrained to be moving house on a regular basis. The reason may simply be the lack of accessible schools but, most usually, comes down to a lack of resources.
JRS works with both internally displaced persons and refugees from the DRC, Burundi and Tanzania to try to guarantee a future for some of the millions of children affected by the convulsions that are their daily lot.
Tina left her native Nyanzale, to the east of the DRC, when she was in the fourth year of primary education. War broke out around her and her mother was forced to place her five children in various foster families. With her grandmother, she left for Kikuko but violence erupted there a year later and she was obliged to move again, this time to a camp in Mweso. It was from there that Tina started to benefit from the schools program operated by the JRS, which funds 50% of schooling costs through the distribution of basic educational necessities. "Thanks to the JRS I was able to restart my schooling. I am currently in the sixth year of studying the humanities. I hope that I shall thus be able to earn my living afterwards."
Julie, an internally displaced person these past five years in Masisi in eastern DRC, was forced to interrupt her schooling when, with her widowed mother and brothers, she was obliged to leave their native region because of the security situation. "But last year the JRS people passed through the camps and foster homes with lists of displaced children - my name was on the list and I was able to be in school again. This is now my second year and I must say how grateful I am for what the JRS has done for me and for all the other pupils in Masisi. The JRS pay half the costs of schooling, which is a great saving for my mother and gives the possibility of funding the schooling for my younger brothers."
The other main area of work for the JRS in the Great Lakes Region is support for the schools and the teachers. In the town of Bujumbura, in Burundi, the program looks after some 200 urban Congolese refugee children and runs thirteen schools split among the four refugee camps in Muyinga and Ruyigi. There, as Thomas, a 14 year-old Congolese urban refugee, says, the support consists of "providing chalk, text books and exercise books enabling the teachers to prepare their lessons and for us to be able really to study. I am no longer afraid of the exams because the JRS helps me to prepare for them".
These sentiments are echoed by Joseph, the Prefect of the Institut Angalisho in Goma, the capital of North Kivu in the DRC, who is extremely satisfied with the impact that the JRS has had following the massive influx of people displaced by the wars. "The rehabilitation of the existing classrooms and the construction of a new building have provided schooling for all these vulnerable youngsters who simply roamed around in the camps without any form of training or ability to study. Those who complete the cycle of secondary education are so motivated by the fact that the JRS supports the national exam system that they pass the exams massively with flying colours and earn their diplomas to go either to university or to enter directly a professional sector".
When violence and displacement are a part of everyday life, school becomes a haven, a land of opportunities and a window on the world.
- Elisa Orbananos, JRS Great Lakes