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Child refugees back in school in Republic of Congo

Tens of thousands of children whose families fled fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are being helped to carry on their schooling by aid workers. Ethnic clashes in October, forced thousands of families to escape over the border to the neighbouring Republic of Congo.

Now aid workers for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are building and repairing classrooms across Congo’s Likouala region, to get these children back into education. “This is as much for continuing their education as for providing a bit of normalcy in a situation that can easily traumatize children,” said the organisation’s Marianne Flach.

The long-running conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been one of the deadliest in the last fifty years and the villages of the Likoula region shelter more refugees from there than anywhere else in northern Congo, according to Refugees International. Some 84,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled Equateur province have fled to the Republic of Congo since early November, according to government estimates. These refugees live in crowded conditions and the risks of respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malaria are high.
Inter-ethnic violence between two local tribes disputing farming and fishing rights provoked the exodus. The Enyele and Munzaya tribes have long been in dispute over farming and fishing rights, which led to heavy fighting. Around Betou, there are camps for 55,000 of the 115,000 people, mainly women and children, who fled. The refugees already outnumber the local population of about 46,000, according to local authorities.

Three public primary schools in the town of Dongou, have opened their doors to about 800 young refugees holding morning lessons for local children, and afternoon ones for refugee children. Teachers form the Democratic Republic of Congo who are themselves refugees, have volunteered to teach children arriving from across the border.

“We have two grades in each class, which can get a bit distracting,” said Ingoma Mazenge, a teacher who fled. “But in the end, it is better than nothing at all.” He added the hope that roofing materials and other supplies would make it possible to accommodate all the students more comfortably.

Setting up schools was a priority for parents arriving in the country. “We couldn’t just sit and watch our children be idle, so we built the schools ourselves,” said Parents’ Committee President Xavier Ekonda, who has seven children. “Now we are also getting help from UNICEF and soon some sheeting for the roofs.”

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children