– Jun 15, 2011
War Child began the access to education program in 2008, and it immediately resonated with me, right from the beginning. Quietly, it became the program that most intrigued me because, while studying at university, my intention was to become a teacher. Not too long ago, during a presentation at a high school that holds an annual War Child fundraiser, a student asked me what, in my opinion, was the greatest impact the humanitarian movement could have on the world. A great question, and indeed, a loaded one. Without hesitation, I shared my answer: to ensure that all children are given the gift of education. Before children can go on to become peacemakers, they must first learn the meaning of peace. How else can we build a more just and equitable world? My time in Baraka breathed life and certitude into my answer.
From the time I stepped off the tarmac in Burundi, to the thirty minutes spent wiping the red dust from my clothes before boarding the plane home, my days were filled with innumerable moments of curiosity, joy, and, most surprising of all, unabashed delight. I left not feeling depressed or overwhelmed as one might expect, but thankful to have met and spent time with such beautiful people, who have endured and overcome the horrors of conflict.
For me, everyone, from the little girl (no older than three) who I passed on my way to the office every day, manning her family’s curbside cassava stand, to the elderly woman, most likely in her sixties, who I saw hauling at least twenty pounds of firewood atop her head somewhere near the hills of Lubimbi, were heroes. They are all stronger and more resilient than I will ever be. Millions of their stories will never be told. But in the few moments we shared, even if just a fleeting second to exchange a smile or wave, my life was changed. My hope is that you, like me, will be inspired by their courage and will to create a brighter future for their country.
The Congo is a country that has been besieged because of its natural beauty. Dating back to colonial times, its lands and people have been terrorized by scores of dictators and militia groups. In South Kivu, where War Child is one of the only Canadian humanitarian organizations implementing programming at the community level, the effects of conflict are felt daily. Stories of violence, rape, and attacks are commonplace. In fact, the day my colleague and I arrived in Baraka, the small town where War Child’s Congo office is located, the community was reeling from the recent murder of a fourteen-year old. However, he was not killed in a random attack by a rebel group, but by a family member. In the neighboring town, a group of local youth attacked and raped a mother and daughter during the first few days of our arrival. This is the reality of living with conflict; this is how the seeds of impunity take root. This is why War Child’s work is needed.
Every day spent in Baraka was a lesson in resiliency and humanity. My most treasured moments are those that seem insignificant in the grand scheme of the country’s story. Given my short time there, I did not have the opportunity to work with or spend ample time in the schools War Child has rehabilitated, or speak at length with community leaders. It took a few days for our own staff to speak with me or greet my morning hellos with a smile. Understandably so — who was this sprite muzungu? (muzungu means white person) Why did she seem so overjoyed to be in what has been coined the worst place to be born a woman? I did not meet any child soldiers. No children recounted their horror stories about war. But, at every turn and fork in the road, exuberant children with infectious smiles greeted me.
Youth who had completed War Child’s radio training and journalism programming wanted to talk politics. Faida, a young girl not older than sixteen, whom I met with three times to talk about the challenges Congolese youth face, looked me square in the eyes and implored me to let everyone know that girls must be included in every activity, opportunity and program that is offered to boys. Mulindwa, an eloquent and soft-spoken young man, who is only fifteen years old, repeated the same line over and over in every conversation we had, “les droits des enfants au Congo sont bafouées!”: (in the Congo, children’s rights are repudiated).
This small sentence, only eight words long, had so much power, because, months prior, before participating in War Child’s youth journalism training and before anchoring his own radio show on Radio Baraka, Mulindwa would not have had the confidence to tell a muzungu like me something so personal. Before participating in War Child’s program, he wouldn’t have been able to rhyme off all fifty-four charters in the Conventions on the Rights of the Child. Come to think of it, I don’t think children in Canada can do that.
So no, in the twenty-two days spent in Baraka I did not cry. I never shook my head in disbelief at the poverty or grief I thought I would see. Instead, I was part of a community on the verge of something incredible: transformation. Since starting work in the Congo in 2005, War Child’s Baraka staff (all twenty-one of whom are Congolese, a rarity among humanitarian organizations) is nearing the completion of its thirty-ninth school near Nakalisa. These communities are only accessible by boat as there are no roads, not a single one. Their students have been learning in makeshift schools atop rubble. By the year’s end, over forty schools will have been rebuilt, hundreds of teachers will have returned to work, and thousands of students will have successfully completed another year of school in buildings rehabilitated by local masons, woodworkers and bricklayers.
What’s next, you may ask? In September, War Child will be opening, in partnership with our newest local partner Féderation des Femmes pour le Développement, the first community centre in Baraka. In this space, women will meet to share their common experiences and participate in literacy classes, so that they, like their daughters, will be able to read and write. Faida and Mulindwa will be able to meet and organize youth events. And most importantly, it will be a space where Baraka can converge, learn and collaborate in the creation of a brighter future. My only regret is that I won’t be there for the opening celebration (the Congolese know how to throw a party).
I have never been so proud to be a part of such a remarkable team. A huge thanks goes to Linda, my colleague and Congo program manager (if you are looking to bond with a colleague, travel to Africa with them). I also have to say that if I had not been a French speaker, this trip would have never happened, so thanks to all of my French teachers and professors.
I went to the Congo to share stories in the hopes that the strength and courage of the people we work with can touch others. Now that I am home the most important story that I want to tell is the following: in South Kivu, little by little, the tides of conflict are ceding. Please show your support and make a donation in celebration of our amazing program, talented staff and dynamic partners.
To learn more about War Child’s work and to receive updates, please sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter here.
You can also read more about my time in the Congo on my blog and in the coming weeks I will be posting away so stay tuned!
* Also, as a disclaimer for the photo, I refused to take the typical "humanitarian with children photos" so this photo, along with others, were taken by the kids themselves using my camera during a quick photography lesson on my way home for lunch *
From The Field,
Tags: congo, africa, education, war, conflict, community,
We completely agree! We believe change can only occur if women and children know their rights. At the same time the individuals who are abusing their rights need to be provided with education and support as well so they can understand that what they are doing is wrong. However I think for them to change no one can do it for them , they have to want the change for themselves.
How does UNICEF advocate and fight for the rights of women and children? Do they have initiatives currently in place?
War Child’s website offers numerous ideas for fundraising and getting involved. Individuals can show their support by organizing a fundraising event. To do so you can register the event using their on-line registry and once the event is registered War Child provides all the needed forms, resources and information to support in the implementation process. The online registry provides individuals with the ability to track donations and send friends invitations. On the website they also have a PDF called the fundraising toolkit. Within this document they provide a bunch of fundraising event ideas from raffles, dance offs, talent shows, bake sales, Karaoke night, art exhibitions etc. One idea War Child provided that we personally really liked is called War Child Eats.What this means is we would invite family and friends over for dinner and would ask them to bring a donation rather than paying to go out to eat at a restaurant.
Check out page three and four on this PDF http://www.warchild.ca/images/...,
Out of the listed ideas which one would you
personally enjoy doing?
Thank you for your comment! We completely agree, before this assignment we previously didn’t think about world issues as much as we should have been. This blog has opened our
eyes and perspectives about the importance of advocacy. It’s so uplifting to hear and learn about what these amazing people are doing for people in the world who are in need. We often take for granted so many things in our lives and your
right we wake up and think about ourselves first. But once this blog is over,will we continue advocating? My hopes are that we will, for instance once school is over we would love to go to Students Crossing Boarders to do volunteer work.
Once this blog is over, what things do you want to do to continue advocating?
We completely agree with you, it is important for teachers and professionals working in the field to raise awareness and advocate for these children. It is likely that teachers could have at least one refugee in their classroom. it is crucial that we as educators ensure we are speaking about this issue and educating not on ourselves but the children as well. Thank you for this game! Have you played this with children before? If so how did it go?
I think that wherever in the world we find crime, war, poverty, and so much more tragic issues there will always be a negative impact on children- and as much as i hate to say this children will most likely always be used for child labor, child bride, pornography etc and therefore i think as educators within this field there should always be ongoing advocacy and volunteer help/workshops to stop this issue. i think other organizations should form some kind of a hub where they support each other into the well-being of children and families. i do like the idea of starting of shelters, just like an ordinary guy started to give a way shoes for every pair bought, but what more does it take to bring realization to the world and how much more effort can someone go and who is willing to put in that effort- advertisment and advocacy is only about talk- which is okay because it creates awareness but the inspiration brings about action- and everyday i personally ask my self "well its a new day, what are you going to do for yourself today and what will you do for the world" personally i know we are all busy with our lives but after our busy time is over will we all commit ourselves to doing more and how far are we willing to go and to do.
I think a good way to help refugees is to introduce what refugees are in the classroom! Teachers can raise awareness for the issues refugees face. Here is a game that teachers can use in the classroom to raise awareness! http://www.unhcr.org/46a07f8c4...
We think that this is great how War Child fight for women and child rights violation especially sexual violence. It is important to teach women and children about their rights, but we feel that it is also important to teach the abusers about women and childrens rights. We know that it maybe hard, but we think that this will not change if we do not correct the people that are doing wrong! What do you guys think?
Alexandra and Jen C.
It's great that you are advocating for Lets-give Dominican Republic, the poverty going on there must be devastating, but it is amazing that there is an organization to help support them and provide them with much need resources. We recently read the article you posted on your blog, it was shocking to hear about how girls are being told they can have a better life but are then enslaved as sex workers in neighbouring countries. It's very sad to know this is happening and we hope that with time this can be stopped. What initiatives is your organization doing to help these children, adolescents and women?
We think that this is a great way to actually get people there. Besides donating Aeroplan miles do War Child do any other fundraising? What other potential fundraising in your opinion would work?
Thank you for your comment! War Child UK and Holland along with Canada are making huge strides in providing safe places for child refugees. We hope that the end is near for the Syrian Crisis. What else do you think needs to be done to help refugees?