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Lusenda refugees - emergency education

Life as a young refugee shouldn’t mean the end of your education and future. We’re giving support to Burundian refugees and the struggling Congolese secondary schools which are hosting them.

Lusenda refugee camp, located on the shores of Lake Tangyanika, is home to 21,000 Burundians, and growing. These refugees have fled brutal violence at home. A failed coup attempt and political protests were prompted by a fear (since realised) that President Nkurunziza was going to claim what many see as an unconstitutional third term in office. Since then, the ruling party and its youth militia wing, the Imbonerakure , have persecuted anyone they see as opposing the government. More than 278,000 Burundians, many of them lone children and teenagers, have fled this violence, seeking refuge in Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.

Lusenda refugee camp

Lusenda refugee camp. Photo taken by Thea Lacey, Children in Crisis Programme Manager

There is no provision of education within Lusenda refugee camp itself. And so, despite already being desperately underfunded and run-down, Congolese schools around the camp are hosting Burundian students. It is within these schools that we are working – to support the education and welfare of young refugees and their Congolese classmates.

A temporary classroom outside Lusenda refugee camp

A temporary classroom outside Lusenda refugee camp. Photo taken by Alex Hammond, Children in Crisis supporter.

The clothes on their backs

Our first work with young Burundian refugees has consisted of providing them with school uniforms, shoes, text books and stationery. The nature of refugee flight shouldn’t be forgotten – it’s sudden and chaotic – rarely planned. When we took the decision to provide these materials it was in recognition that very few of the young refugees would have been able to bring such things with them.

In many cases the uniforms we provided were the only clothing the refugees had received

In many cases the uniforms we provided were the only clothing the refugees had received. Photo taken by the students of Institut Lokolola.

The results of an early assessment on the usefulness of this work still came as a shock to us. Other than the clothes in which they arrived, in many cases the uniforms we provided were the only clothing the refugees had received. The school shoes were often their only footwear.

Drama groups - giving voice & escape

Life is one of extremes within Lusenda camp. Extreme scarcity. Boredom that almost hurts. Boiling hot day and night in the summer, but then streams running through your tarpaulin shelter in the wet season.

Loneliness and homesickness too – many of the students that we work with are teenagers or young adults who have been separated from their family. They are unaccompanied, vulnerable and full of uncertainty – they were doing so well at school or college in Burundi - how much of their life is now going to be wasted in this camp?

Our drama clubs enable Burundian refugees to take back some control and express themselves.

Our drama clubs forge friendships and give some respite from life in the refugee camp. © 2016 Mike Tinney / Children in Crisis

The drama clubs that we run at six of Lusenda’s schools are an escape for these young refugees, a way to express themselves and take back some control. Often the plays that the clubs perform are educational, dealing with issues relevant to Congolese and Burundian youth alike.

The very act of performing for local communities lets the Burundians feel useful and accepted. Because the drama clubs are made up of both Congolese and Burundian students, they also work to forge friendships and understanding. 

Training teachers

Lusenda’s schools were in need of help and investment before the arrival of the camp – they are now at breaking point.

The quality of teaching is a real concern. Many teachers are doing their best in difficult circumstances, but have never received any formal training – the majority only have a secondary school education. By providing the teachers from Lusenda’s six secondary schools with on-going in-job training, we’re enabling them to cope with a rapidly changing situation and to give their pupils the best possible education.

We're training teachers for the schools around Lusenda camp.

We're training teachers for the schools around Lusenda camp. © 2016 Mike Tinney / Children in Crisis

We’re currently working with teachers from all six of Lusenda’s secondary schools – 91 staff members in total. Training will continue in the months ahead if we secure support to keep us working in Lusenda. 

School kits. Teach a Man to Fish

The school kits that we’re providing six of Lusenda’s schools with help with the immediate lack of classroom materials. Each kit consists of copy books, pens and other essential stationery.

These schools are going to need some way of buying additional materials, to help during the refugee crisis and into the long-term too. But it’s unlikely that reliable government support will arrive anytime soon. The schools need some way of sustainably supporting themselves into the future.

If we’re able to secure support for our work in Lusenda to continue, one of our goals will be to set up school enterprises within each of Lusenda’s six secondary schools. Teachers will be trained in the Teach a Man to Fish methodology, and use this training to set up school businesses. This is something that we’ve successfully piloted in other Congolese schools – livestock businesses generated healthy incomes which can now be used to carry out repairs, buy textbooks and pay teachers’ wages. 

Of secondary importance?

Unfortunately, assistance for Lusenda’s refugees from the international community has not been forthcoming. More than one year after Lusenda camp had been established, only 14% of the 8 million US dollars required to provide Lusenda’s refugees with basic needs of hygiene, water, sanitation and education had arrived.

The emphasis of aid intervention on primary education has taken teachers and classroom time away from secondary schooling

The emphasis of aid intervention on primary education has taken teachers and classroom time away from secondary schooling. © 2016 Mike Tinney / Children in Crisis

Despite a drastic shortfall in funding from the international community there has been at least some investment in the provision of education. Indeed in a sense the arrival of the camp has been a boon for Lusenda’s residents – it has finally brought some investment to their area. For a start, the local schools have received some long-overdue support. The trouble is that has focussed almost exclusively on primary school education.

But if anything the Congolese secondary age students have seen their education worsen – their Burundian classmates are in the same boat. Four of the six secondary schools in and around Lusenda don’t even enjoy the luxury of having their own premises. Everything is shared with primary schools; classrooms & teachers included. The emphasis of aid intervention on primary education has taken teachers and classroom time away from secondary schooling. Where students used to have a full afternoon of lessons each day, they now get one or two hours if they are lucky.

It is this situation that prompted our local Congolese partner to raise the plight of these students with us. And is why we’re focussing our support on secondary education, helping in whatever way we can until funding runs out.

Lusenda needs support

We are urgently seeking extra support to enable us to keep helping with the Burundian refugee crisis in Lusenda. We’re currently using emergency reserves to run all of the projects that you’ll find on this page – but this cannot last. If you can help today, please visit our donation page and give what you can. Thank you.

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