|On Assignment in the Democratic Republic of Congo|
By Fr. Ken Gavin, S.J.
Building Schools, Bringing Hope in the Democratic Republic of Congo
It’s always a happy moment to accompany refugees as they return home after years of living in exile. For nearly 10 years Jesuit Refugee Service had cared for Congolese refugees, driven by war from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Mwange Camp in northern Zambia. Although the camp was not far from the border with their home country, the ongoing conflict in the DRC made return impossible.
During the past year, however, peace regained a toehold in the DRC’s Katanga Province. At last, the refugees were able to return home. And, as they came home, they found that much of their province’s infrastructure had been destroyed by decades of war. They discovered that nearly all their homes, schools and churches had to be rebuilt. As JRS accompanied thousands of refugees from Mwange Camp back to the DRC, we began to help refugees and the local Congolese community rebuild an educational system in shambles.
With the help of funding from U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, JRS is currently building and reconstructing schools for thousands of refugees and local children who otherwise could not attend school. The enthusiasm of Moba’s youngsters, their parents, and their teachers made it clear to us that education was uppermost in their minds and that adequate schools with qualified teachers were tremendously important for both returning refugees and the local community.
JRS in Moba is working closely with the local Catholic diocese of Kalemie-Kirungu that had committed itself to developing quality schools for the children of Katanga Province. Without the outstanding leadership and dedication of Father Cyprian Nkoma, the JRS project director and a diocesan priest, the school program in Moba would never have had the success that it currently enjoys.
Fr. Cyprien, who served the Congolese refugees in Mwange Camp in Zambia for many years, returned with them to the DRC this past year. He has organized the efforts of the refugee and local community to rebuild its sorely battered educational system. It was clear to us that, in accompanying refugees home, JRS is providing many children and their families with an experience of real hope for the future. Little wonder that there was so much song and dancing!