Here in Australia, many of us are frantically buying school shoes, packing lunches, and looking for lost sports hats, as we prepare to anxiously (or excitedly) send our children off to school.
But in the DR Congo, our brothers and sisters are having to send their kids off in the middle of a warzone.
Right now, the DR Congo is in the midst of a violent civil conflict that has seen 5.8 million people forced to flee their homes into internally displaced person (IDP) camps since March 2022*.
According to the UN, more than 2.8 million children are facing “daily atrocities” as a result of the armed conflict. This, along with impacts of severe ongoing food shortages and disease outbreaks, has led the UN to declare that the DR Congo is one of the worst places in the world to be a child right now.
But amidst all this hardship and heartbreak, God is shining his light into these kids lives through our ministry partners in the region.
Our ministry partner, HEAL Africa, has been running a primary school inside one of the country’s biggest IDP camps – the Mugunga camp – since 2007.
The school gives children a safe place to go, to learn and to have some sense of ‘normalcy’ amidst the chaos of the current situation.
With the dramatic influx of people into the camp, HEAL has been working to increase their capacity (and is continuing to do so) and so was able to take in 340 kids for this school year.
In their daily lives these children are being exposed to horrific scenes, atrocities and ongoing challenges so, in addition to providing good quality education, the school organises activities to help with psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Our ministry partner just shared with us a few highlights (with photos!) from these activities in recent months, including a new food program, a special birthday celebration and back to school excitement.
A new food program
The conflict has forced people to flee their rural villages (where the food supplies are grown) and has also cut off the roadways into, out of, and across the country. This has led to severe food shortages and skyrocketing prices of the limited remaining supplies.
Families in the IDP camps, in particular, are struggling to find enough food to feed themselves. Many children in these communities are now developing acute malnutrition. One of the many impacts of this is that many children are no longer going to school.
In response to these challenges, HEAL launched a school food program (funded by WorldShare supporters) last year and has opened a canteen in the Mugunga Primary School, which provides students with nutritious (and abundant) meals.
HEAL sent us photos from the inaugural canteen day and it looked like quite a party. By all reports the children each received all the food they could handle, and many were even able to take food home to their families.
As a bonus, on every canteen day there is also dedicated dancing time after lunch!
According to teachers and parents, the program has had already had an obvious positive impact on the physical, psychological and emotional health of the kids. School attendance has also significantly improved in this time.
As part of their efforts toward psychological and emotional healing, the primary school organises a collective birthday party each quarter to celebrate the children who have birthdays during that time (with all of the students taking part in the celebrations).
Thanks to WorldShare supporters the school provides birthday cakes, soft drink, birthday hats and sweets for all the students.
This is a big deal for these children as most of them have never had their birthday celebrated in this way, or even attended a birthday celebration like this.
For many of them this was the first time they’d ever tasted birthday cake.
And as is often the case, after food comes the dancing.
By all reports these are amazing days, where the kids can forget about the trauma they’ve experienced and the misery going on around them. Many of them said after this event that they “felt loved” and saw themselves differently because they “realised that they are important to other people.”
Back to school activities
For most of the vulnerable families in these communities, they cannot afford everything their children need for school.
But more than ever before, last September, students were coming back to school without the basic materials they required.
So, the school (thanks to funding from WorldShare supporters) decided to provide back-to-school kits for all 340 students.
These kits included brand new schoolbags and a years’ worth of exercise books, pencils, rulers etc.
As you can see from the photos, the students were overjoyed with their new backpacks, and this excitement was echoed by parents, many of which travelled into school the following day to thank the teachers personally.
So, whether you’re anxious or excited about sending your kids off to school – or excited that this isn’t something you have to worry about right now in your life – I hope these photos brought you some joy.