07 August 2012
|The community is very pleased. Before this school, there was a poorly built, unfit school. There were no windows and it had a dirt floor, with no benches for the students to sit on..., said Kizabi Kambala.|
Kaputa, Zambia, 7 August 2012 — Funding from the US Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration enabled the Jesuit Refugee Service to build 14 schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo, thus furthering the education of up to five thousand students.The Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is larger in area than the state of California. The southeast portion of Katanga borders Zambia, and it is along this border area – north of Mansa, south of Lake Tanganyka – that the Jesuit Refugee Service built these schools.
"Most of the beneficiaries of the schools were refugees in Zambia", said project director Fr Cyprien Kmengwa. The Congolese had fled into Zambia to escape heavy fighting that raged throughout much of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
"The refugees began to return to Katanga in 2008, it was a voluntary repatriation that lasted until 2010. Nearly 40,000 have returned, with about 30,000 returning to this area", said Fr Cyprien.
JRS constructed schools in 14 different communities, with one school rising in each community. Each school consists of six to 10 classrooms, depending on the size of the community.
"With 300 to 400 students in each school, that's about 4,000 to 5,000 children getting an education now", Fr Cyprien explained.
Over the course of the last three years Jesuit Refugee Service USA was awarded cooperative agreements from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and Jesuit Refugee Service Southern Africa has been able to successfully implement them in the field.
Delphen Kyrpekalombe was the senior bricklayer at the school in Musosa. He said it took five masons and five assistants, and five carpenters for the roof, seven months to build the school.
"I'm happy to accomplish this. The community is very happy" said Mr Kyrpekalombe.
The headmaster at the school in Nkuntauna said his community echoed those feelings."The community is very pleased. Before this school, there was a poorly built, unfit school. There were no windows and it had a dirt floor, with no benches for the students to sit on. Thank you for the [new] school. Children are getting more from this school", said Kizabi Kambala.
Headmaster Kambala added that at his new school they have eight teachers for the 320 students in the primary school and the 150 students in the secondary school. The school is multipurpose, with the primary students attending in the morning and the secondary students attending in the afternoon. There are so many students now attending Nkuntauna, Mr Kambala said, that they need another building.
"We targeted these communities for schools based on the number of returnees. We wanted to encourage people to return to the areas they were originally from, to avoid overcrowding in areas that may have been more attractive due to existing infrastructure. We wanted to improve infrastructure in these more isolated areas, especially the schools. Also, we heard from the local church that these locations needed schools", said Fr Cyprien.
Although the education system in the Congo is officially administered by three different government ministries, the Catholic Church effectively runs most of the schools.
"Once the school is built and commissioned, we turn it over to local authorities. The local communities will run these schools, although administratively they are under the dioceses. We've had a strong commitment from the Archbishop to see the schools are maintained", said Fr Cyprien.
"I think it's a good benefit for the communities to run the schools, especially as the children will be able to go to school in their own community, they won't have to move to another village. That is both costly for the family and it is unsafe for the children to be away from their parents. When you have a school in your community, the children will have access for a long time, and they can remain and take part in their own community", said Fr Cyprien.
The distances in northern Zambia and Katanga province are vast, and the roads make the distances feel even greater. A team visiting from Jesuit Refugee Service USA and JRS Southern Africa discovered this the bumpy way while driving eight hours to cover about 200km recently."We had a lot of challenges to build these schools", said Fr Cyprien.
"Congo is a big country, but has poor infrastructure. The roads and bridges are bad or non-existent. Moba is a bigger (city) and we had to go there to buy many of our building materials, and then had to transport it to this area. To transport the material to the location was quite a big challenge. As you experienced, we spend two to three days on the road in passenger vehicles driving here, now imagine you are in a truck loaded with cement and other things, it takes at least a week", he said, shaking his head.
"It was quite a challenge, but also a good experience. We saw a canal without a bridge, and decided to build a bridge to both help get our supplies in but then to also serve the local community for years to come. Before the bridge, they would have to carry their bicycles on their heads to get across", Fr Cyprien said.
"The programme has been very successful. In all the locations we have been able to bring new schools. The buildings are strong and will be there for at least the next 20 years", he said.
"Please give thanks to the people who have generously donated the money for this, the American people. What we have done we have done it with their help, and God bless them for their generosity", Fr Cyprien said.
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