Connect with us
On Assignment in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Children of Mwange School in Moba carry a blackboard into a classroom.?(Fr. Ken Gavin, S.J. - Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Thursday, August 26, 2010

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.
 
Last month Armando Borja, our JRS/USA program director, and I joined the JRS team in Katanga to visit an exciting educational project in Moba, a Congolese town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Like so much of the DRC, Moba had been devastated by the long years of war. We arrived there by plane from the provincial capital Lubumbashi with a contingent of Congolese supporters of JRS’s educational program in Moba. It would be nearly impossible to describe the welcome we received at the Moba airstrip!  Hundreds of townspeople lined the strip  — school children, adults, local chiefs and even the bishop of the local diocese — welcoming us with bands, song, and dancing. It was clear that they wanted to express their thanks for the help that JRS was providing them in building and reconstructing schools throughout Moba.
 
In driving through Moba, I was struck by the two things: first of all, the enormous number of children who were not attending school; and secondly, the amount of new basic construction taking place throughout the city. Clearly, there are far too few schools to meet the needs of the thousands of school-aged children in Moba. As we drove across the city, a JRS staff member pointed out to us that most of the simple homes and buildings in Moba are brand new. Nearly every home and building had been destroyed during the country’s long period of war. Now stacks of red clay bricks, produced and fired by local craftsmen, lay everywhere throughout the city. Nearly every home and building was in the process of being rebuilt!


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!