– The Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), Yasmine Sherif, launched a strong call for public and private donors to step up funding, asking them to “show the same courage” she saw in the children she met during her week-long visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Years of conflict, the impact of climate change, epidemics – including outbreaks of Ebola, Cholera, and COVID-19 – and other crises, have taken a heavy toll on DRC’s young generation. The country hosts the largest population of internally displaced persons in Africa. Nationwide, more than 3 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school, and less than one in ten children can read a simple sentence.
Sherif visited an ECW-funded programme in Tanganyika in the country’s southeast. UNICEF implements the programme with the Congolese government, provincial authorities, and other key international and local implementing partners. While the programme launched at the end of June, it is already showing promise in a province where 62% of children are out-of-school and 60% of girls are married before the age of 18.
“We have seen the progress on the ground. This programme demonstrates how we can transform lives with the power of education through an integrated approach that brings together UN agencies, international and local NGOs, the government, local authorities, and the engagement of the communities themselves, the parent-teacher association, the local village chiefs, women groups and of course the children! ” Sherif said.
Together with the Governor of the Tanganyika province, UNICEF officials, and officials from the British Embassy in DRC, Sherif inaugurated the Lubile 1 primary school in the village of Mpungwe; a school built with funding from ECW, which is the United Nations’ global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. The school has high-quality infrastructure, curricula and provides students with a daily meal. There are also psychological services to assist children with trauma, including support to reintegrate children associated with armed groups The programme also offers vocational training for youth. According to the delegation, this school is a first – indicating that anything is possible if the means are available.
The delegation also visited a temporary learning space set up in the Kikumbe village internally displaced camp – which provides much-needed learning opportunities to displaced children. The programme also offers psychosocial/mental health services and re-integration support to young mothers and survivors of sexual violence.
“Thanks to ECW support, we can provide and enhance access to quality education and alternative learning opportunities for all children, especially girls who have suffered so much,” said UNICEF DRC Representative Grant Leaity. “It is heart-warming that we have been able to respond to their specific needs.”
Leaity added that although the challenges are significant, important progress in relation to the provision of education in Tanganyika is being made.
ECW has already invested 22 million US dollars to support similar schools across Tanganyika, targeting a total of 67,000 children, of whom 32,000 have been reached to date. ECW and partners need to mobilize another 44 million US dollars to expand the three-year programme to other crisis-affected provinces where the needs are high.
Education is the basis of all human rights, says Sherif adding that investing in children’s education guarantees the achievement of sustainable development objectives. Because she believes education is at the center of human rights. Without it, little can be achieved.
“Most of the children we met come from displaced families and have never been to school before. Education is their only hope. Their courage and the efforts by the community and local partners to ensure all children go to school inspire us all to do more. We call on public and private donors to urgently step up their support for all crisis-affected girls and boys in DRC and worldwide to have the opportunity to enjoy their right to a safe, protective, inclusive quality education,” she said.
According to Laura Mazal, the Development Director at the British Embassy in DRC, access to quality education in times of humanitarian crisis is vital for children. It offers protection, a sense of normalcy, and hope. The UK is the second largest contributor to ECW’s multi-stakeholder fund at the global level. “ECW’s work is crucial in providing support to the most marginalized children. We have seen first-hand the work being delivered on the ground in Tanganyika, from meeting girl survivors of sexual violence to children formerly associated with armed groups. These children are now receiving a quality education, with huge thanks to ECW, ” said Mazal.
Schools are essential in reducing tensions between community groups, which often spill over into armed conflicts.
“We must step up to help the next generation to heal from the wounds of violence,” Sherif said. “It is crucial to jointly expand holistic education programmes that integrate psychosocial support, gender transformative approaches, and a focus on safety and the well-being of children and adolescents. At the same time, more must be done to stop this cycle of unspeakable violence and systematic violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law. The pervasive impunity must end; perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
During her visit to the DRC, Sherif also announced 2 million US dollars in new funding to continue to support life-saving educational services for refugees and host-community children and adolescents in the Nord Ubangi province in the DRC, building on a previous investment in the region.