2017 Year in Review: Great Lakes Region

In our 2017 Year in Review blog series, we share some of our achievements from our 2017 Annual Review. Last year, Children in Crisis made some significant strides in reaching forgotten children with education and protection services. In part two, we provide an overview of our key projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Plateau and Lusenda) and Burundi, including further insight from our Interim Director of Programmes, Thea Lacey.

Country insight: Great Lakes Region

One of the main programmatic challenges we faced this year was a period of instability in a part of our operational area on the high plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two ethnic groups, who have a long history of conflict, entered in to a violent confrontation from March to July 2017. Houses and property were destroyed, people were displaced and there were tragic deaths and injuries. It was difficult to travel in the area during that period because of the presence of armed groups, so our field-based staff were not able to complete all their activities. This slowed down, for example, the development of the second cohort of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) and schools clubs and prevented the teacher trainers from making follow up visits to all the schools.

Fortunately the violence came to an end in late July and we were able to resume activities shortly afterwards. We took advantage of the teacher training event in August in order to support the head teachers and teachers of secondary schools we work with to consider what they can do to promote peace in their communities. We encouraged the teachers to discuss strategies they were already undertaking or could undertake, and then supported them to form a coordination network to share information about violence in their communities. Teachers are often among the most educated members of the community and have a lot of influence on both young people and the wider community, so they can play a key role in helping to prevent the spread of violence in their communities. 

The crisis in Burundi that began in early 2015 is still ongoing. The repressive ruling regime continues to violently put down opposition, and refugees are continuing to leave in significant numbers. After losing the support of many bilateral donors, the government has been seeking to raise revenue by targeting the currency transactions of international NGOs by setting the exchange rate at a below-market level. While this obviously makes it more expensive for us to operate there, the humanitarian needs in Burundi are great and growing all the time so our continuing work there is even more important than ever.

We will in fact be stepping up our work in Burundi in 2018 by introducing a VSLA programme with the Batwa community in Muyinga we are already supporting with a small-scale agricultural livelihoods project. We are also looking to relaunch our plans to develop a vocational training intervention in Muyinga as well as explore a new partnership with a Bujumbura-based national organisation that is working with street-living children. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo: a snapshot of 2017

  • 150 teachers trained
  • 400 children enjoy the benefits of improved school buildings
  • 1,050 uniforms and school kits distributed to Congolese and Burundian students
  • 12 school enterprises created
  • 2,250 Village Savings and Loans Associations members, including over 1,500 women accessing savings and loans

DR Congo: Plateau

Our work in DR Congo illustrates our commitment to reach the most remote and isolated children. Our programmes, implemented in collaboration with long-term partner Eben Ezer Ministries International, focus primarily on the high and mid plateau area in South Kivu, as well as in the Lusenda refugee camp on the shore of Lake Tanganyika.

During 2017, South Kivu experienced an increase in armed group and inter-tribal violence. Despite these challenges, we have continued our work, assisted by the strong partnerships with community groups that we have built up over a decade. In all our approaches, we aim to promote peace among the communities we work with.

We have improved education for over 20,000 primary and secondary school students through teacher training, improvements in infrastructure and distribution of uniforms and teaching materials. We have also reduced the financial barriers to education for around 3,000 households through participation in Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) and by creating 17 school enterprises. In promoting girls’ education, we have challenged gender inequalities and strengthened women’s voices through sensitisation of communities, girls’ empowerment activities and through the VSlA programme.

A focus on School Building

The poor condition of emergency classrooms in the Lusenda refugee camp drove us to build Institut Sibatwa, our first secondary school, which was completed in May 2017. This six-classroom school is located just outside the camp, and serves both the Congolese and the Burundian refugee populations. EP Bibangwa, a primary school on the high plateau, was completed in April 2017. This beautifully constructed school serves a mixed community including several Batwa villages. In September 2017, we began the new phase of construction with another secondary school, Institut Kivumu, near Minembwe on the high plateau. Our goal is to build a further seven schools over the next three years, including four secondary schools.

The inauguration of Institut Sibatwa brought the community of Burundian refugees and local Congolese together, with much singing, dancing and celebration of their new school. The six classroom school will give up to 200 secondary-age children a place to learn.
The inauguration of Institut Sibatwa brought the community of Burundian refugees and local Congolese together, with much singing, dancing and celebration of their new school. The six classroom school will give up to 200 secondary-age children a place to learn.

 

DR Congo: Lusenda

Lusenda camp’s refugees are vulnerable to exploitation, harassment and sexual violence. And yet their welfare and education has been overlooked. Life as a young refugee shouldn’t mean the end of your education and future. Our work supporting the education and welfare of young Burundian refugees and their Congolese classmates has focused on strengthening the capacity of the secondary school system in Lusenda, which is struggling to cope with a large influx of refugees.

We have continued with our programme of teacher training as well as student kit distribution. In addition, school enterprises have been established in five secondary schools with the purpose of generating an income as well as teaching students about business management. In the future, we hope to shift our focus towards the livelihoods of young people and how we can support young refugees to generate an income to support themselves.

Burundi

The grave political situation in Burundi persisted over the course of 2017 with on-going reports of human rights abuses, and silencing of the media and opposition. Mismanagement and repression by the Burundian government has pushed the country in to economic decline and provoked a humanitarian crisis. The Batwa people are the most socially and economically marginalised group in the rural and extremely poor province of Muyinga. Forbidden from owning land, they are exploited as labourers on others’ land.

Batwa agricultural project

In the last 18 months, we have supported 150 Batwa families to begin cultivating improved varieties of beans and maize on rented land, improving household food consumption. This project has focussed on access to land for farming, and on agricultural techniques to increase yield. Our new project will build on this foundation by introducing Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). This tool for economic empowerment will increase access to savings and loans, reduce the impact of poor harvests, and allow for investment in improved farming equipment and expand access to markets.

Members of a Village Savings and Loans Association
Members of a Village Savings and Loans Association