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Democratic Republic of the Congo: a new role for Mboka school

27-11-2008 Feature

Since the end of August, tens of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the violence which is devastating the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Several hundred of them ended up in Mboka, near Goma, after an exhausting journey on foot. The headteacher and staff of a local school came to their rescue.

  ©ICRC / A. H. Soomro/v-p-pk-e-00691    
  Exhausted, a young woman catches a nap in a classroom with her baby in arms.    
  ©ICRC/O. Miltcheva / /cd-e-00823    
  A school compound turns into a temporary settlement.    
  ©ICRC/O. Miltcheva / /cd-e-00824    
  The construction of a new shelter gets under way.    

The primary school in Mboka is a pretty little wooden building with blue windows and nearly new benches. Three weeks ago, it was a place of learning for around 280 schoolchildren; today, the building is home to over 800 displaced people.

“The first families arrived at around midday on 27 October. They had fled the fighting in their home town of Kibumba, and were exhausted, desperate and terrified, " said Bernard Nimusi, the headteacher. " We knew from the start that many others would be also on their way. "  

Seeing the families’ distress, Bernard and his six teachers turned the school into a shelter. The benches were carried outside and the classrooms became bedrooms. In the playground, women lit small fires to warm their children and to dry out their clothes, which were soaking wet after walking in the rain for so long.

By the end of the day, the number of residents had reached 500 adults and over 300 children of all ages. There was clearly not enough room in the building to house everyone, and so almost half of them slept outdoors on their first night. Those who stayed inside had to sleep on the floor. The improvised shelter had no mats or blankets.

One week later, life in the school was gradually becoming more organized. A few saucepans were simmering over the small fires in the playground. As part of its food distribution operation for the 50,000 displaced persons living in the Kibati camps, the ICRC had also distributed food aid to the displaced in Mboka, consisting mainly of flour and beans. “This food will last approximately 10 days, " explained the headteacher, who for many years had been a volunteer for the Red Cross Society of the DRC, and who now suddenly found himself managing a new shelter for displaced persons. “These people's plight could at any time become our own: the front line is only a few kilometres away. We really want to help, but their needs are huge and it would be impossible without outside help. "

Tanker lorries marked with a red cross come by at least twice daily to fill the three concrete water tanks next to the school, which were fitted by the ICRC in 2005. Alongside the main building, a wooden structure covered with tarpaulins has been adapted by the ICRC and the construction of other temporary shelters is underway.

“Most people now have at least a roof over their heads, although there is still so much to do before we can actually provide adequate living conditions. And do you know what my dream is? " asked Bernard. " I would really like the children of Mboka and those of the displaced families to continue their lessons somehow. We shouldn't forget that this is a school. "