These words, spoken last week at the inauguration of Tubangwa Primary School by a local chief were met with a huge round of applause by all those present to celebrate their new school. This Primary School is the 15th to be built on the Mid and High Plateau region in South Kivu, DR Congo, by Children in Crisis and our local partner NGO Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI). Tubangwa School sits in Tulambo village. Nestled deep on the Itombwe Plateau, with no telephone coverage and several days’ journey by foot to the nearest centres, Tulambo has long suffered from inter-ethnic conflict. It is a region inhabited by two communities, the Banyamulenge and the Babembe. For many years, peace reigned and the communities lived happily side by side. However, the years of conflict from 1996 onwards saw the two groups pitted against each other. Former friends and neighbours found themselves entangled in a fatal conflict, driven by rumour, jealousy and manipulation. Today a fragile peace has been reinstated, but it is a peace that needs nurturing.
When talking about what makes them sad, the first thing that the men, women and children of Tulambo spoke about was war. In my personal world, death is not something that I think about regularly. It is not something that I’m faced with regularly. However, for the group of 11 and 12 year old pupils with whom I chatted, the first thing they told me they didn’t like to see was death. The thing they most hated to hear was news of people being killed by war. These sentiments were echoed by the men and women I talked to. Men spoke about not wanting to hear people talk about inter-ethnic killings, they don’t like to hear news about war and they are sad when they see people fleeing and the destruction that war causes. Women spoke of the sadness of widows and orphans left behind following conflict. They hate to see friends become enemies and are scared when they hear news of fighting.
The construction of a school is seen as a symbol of a brighter future. The building itself is merely the tip of the iceberg. In all of Children in Crisis’ schools-construction projects, we work closely with the community to ensure they are ready for the job at hand – the investment of the local population is enormous. Whilst we transport building materials from the lowlands and provide a skilled team to lead the project, the community will work together to provide stones for the foundations, sand for the cement and water on a daily basis over eight months of construction. Being so invested-in and integral to the project, they also scrutinise the quality of construction throughout, and become ambassadors for education within the wider community.
As is often the case, for the communities of Tubangwa Primary School, the construction project also provided a neutral platform for previously warring communities to work together for a common goal – more important than any lingering mistrust or suspicion.
The resulting, bright spacious school is not only a place for Tubangwa’s children to learn and prosper. It is the best chance we have to put an end to the spectre of death that haunts people of this region on a daily basis. It is the hope for a future without conflict.