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The Virdee School - work begins

The Virdee Foundation

We are delighted to announce a new partnership with the philanthropist, Professor Peter Virdee, whose charitable foundation is funding the construction of a new school in Bibangwa, DR Congo.

Located a three hours’ walk from the nearest road, on the High Plateau of eastern DR Congo, Bibangwa’s children are at the extremes of isolation. They’re receiving no help or investment from the government or other organisations. The current wattle and daub school, built by a resourceful community who are desperate for their children to learn, has unfortunately been ruined by the Plateau’s torrential rains.

Thanks to the Virdee Foundation’s support, we will be able to work with Bibangwa’s parents to construct a new, durable, six-classroom school for their children. The Virdee school will be community-owned and community-run. It will be a safe and dry place in which future generations of children can grasp their chance to learn. 

Bibangwa's current school

A leaking roof is unable to protect the children or classroom poster from the rain.

A leaking roof is unable to protect the children or classroom posters from the rain.

Bibangwa’s current school was built through significant effort from the community, using local traditional techniques. It’s a bamboo frame construction with white clay walls. Though these techniques can work quite well for domestic dwellings, they do not work for classrooms. The quite necessary absence of large, frequently-tended fireplaces in schools, means that the walls have started to crumble as there’s no heat or smoke to dry and the preserve the clay. The Plateau’s heavy rains have quickly degraded the corrugated tin roof.

As a result, the classrooms are cold, muddy and often wet places. Especially when the Plateau’s heavy rains come during wet seasons.

The untreated and thin corrugated metal roofing sheets rusted through long ago.

The untreated and thin corrugated metal roofing sheets rusted through long ago. 

Space is also an issue. There simply isn’t enough room for the school’s 165 students in its four small classrooms. Though unstable, the bamboo benches do give some students a place to sit, the difficulty they face is that they have no desks to support their books when they’re writing.

An absence of desks forces children into writing into books perched on their laps. The rocks are used as benches when the classroom has become too full.

An absence of desks forces children into writing into books perched on their laps. The rocks are used as benches when the classroom has become too full.

The Virdee Foundation’s mission statement

‘To relieve the needs of women and children who have or who are in danger of suffering mental, physical or sexual abuse.’

Our report on the condition of Bibangwa’s school, and the conditions in which children are trying to learn, left the Virdee Foundation in no doubt - that their support will bring lasting improvements to the mental and physical wellbeing of Bibangwa’s children.

The new school

Bibangwa’s new school will be constructed from durable materials; solid brick walls with deep foundations, galvanized (rust resistant) metal roofing sheets, cement floors. It will be designed to last, and to protect children from the cold and the rain.

Desks and benches in the school’s six classrooms will give every child a place to sit. They’ll no longer have to stoop over books perched on their laps. Windows will allow natural light to illuminate the classrooms. Children will be able to learn without distraction from uncomfortable, dark surroundings.

These photos from other schools we’ve built on the Plateau give an idea of the kind of new school that Bibangwa’s children will have in less than a year from now:

Thick, galvanized metal roofing sheets and guttering will keep rain out of the classrooms

Thick, galvanized metal roofing sheets and guttering will keep rain out of the classrooms.

Benches and desks, made by local carpenters, will let the children sit and write in comfort.

Benches and desks, made by local carpenters, will let the children sit and write in comfort.

Glazed windows will keep the elements out, but allow daylight into the classrooms.

Glazed windows will keep the elements out, but allow daylight into the classrooms.

Partnership

Partnership will be the driving force behind the construction of Bibangwa’s new school; between Children in Crisis, The Virdee Foundation, EMI (our local Congolese partners), and the parents of Bibangwa.

The contributions made by Bibangwa community will be particularly important. Bibangwa is one of the remotest places in which we have undertaken school construction, we won’t be able to do it without significant help. Trucks will have to offload any building materials at the end of one of the few dirt roads that serve the area. One of the many contributions from the community will be to carry these materials, including metal roofing materials, by hand or head on a three-hour walk up steep slopes to Bibangwa.

Work has already begun

EMI, our Congolese partners, have already started working with Bibangwa’s parents, preparing for the start of the construction work. Stones are being gathered for the school’s foundations. The structures you can see in the photo below are bamboo cages. Each cage contains the foundation stones collected by one family – as you can see, there are plenty of families involved and women are very much doing the heavy work.

Foundations stones are currently being gathered by community members. Each bamboo basket represents a different family's contribution.

Foundations stones are currently being gathered by community members. Each bamboo basket represents a different family's contribution.

Women gathering foundation stones (more like rocks!).

Women gathering foundation stones (more like rocks!).

The contract, in which EMI, Children in Crisis and Bibangwa community agree to our responsibilities in the construction of the new school has also been signed. Here, the Head of the committee of women which is helping with the construction of the new school, is putting her signature on the document. 

The Head of the Women's Committee signs the school construction contract.

The Head of the Women's Committee signs the school construction contract. 

Timeline

We hope to see the new Virdee school opening in April 2017. We’ll have to wait for camera memory cards to get down from the Plateau (and then for photos to be sent via very slow internet from EMI’s offices in Uvira), but we’ll post updates on the construction as often as we can!

 

About The Virdee Foundation

If you’d like to learn more about The Virdee Foundation, their aims and other work that they have supported, please visit:

www.thevirdeefoundation.com.

 
  The Virdee Foundation