Children in Crisis is delighted to announce the inauguration of the Bibangwa School, generously funded through a partnership between the charity The Virdee Foundation. Two hours’ walk from the nearest road, the new school is set on the High Plateau in South Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the school formally opened on 19 August and already filled with 165 children.
Originally completed in April, formally inaugurating the L-shaped school with its six classrooms had to be postponed because rebel groups moving across the Plateau made it too dangerous for visitors to travel for inaugural celebrations. Communities living in this area have suffered decades of neglect by the government as well as a conflict involving many rebel groups. The existing dark and over-crowded school had been built using sticks and mud. Its teachers were untrained and unqualified.
As a result of this, Bibangwa’s children are at the extremes of isolation, where they are receiving no help or investment from the government or other organisations. The former wattle and daub school, built by a resourceful community who are desperate for their children to learn, was unfortunately ruined by the Plateau’s torrential rains.
“We had waited so long for this day. All the children and their parents were there; most of whom had actually helped to build the school. There were speeches from the Headmaster, local chiefs, the School Building Committee, Ebenezer Ministries and the local church and from Children in Crisis as the keys were handed over. Contracts were signed on a table piled high with dictionaries, text books, pencils, paper and footballs. The village choir sang and there was dancing as we opened bright blue doors into light classrooms. I have seen many new schools in my role at Children in Crisis and this is by far the most impressive.” stated Thea Lacey, Programme Manager at Children in Crisis
Thanks to the Virdee Foundation’s support, they have been able to work with Bibangwa’s parents to construct the new, durable, six-classroom school for their children. The new school has been named after The Virdee Foundation and is known as “The Virdee School”. It is a community-owned and community-run school that has been established in a safe and dry place for future generations of the children of Bibangawa to attend, whom now have the opportunity to learn and enhance their growth, knowledge and development in both education and life.
Bibangwa’s Old School
A leaking roof is unable to protect the children nor the classroom posters from the rainfall.
A leaking roof is unable to protect the children nor the classroom posters from the rainfall.
Bibangwa’s previous school was built through a significant effort from the community, using local traditional techniques. It was a bamboo frame construction with white clay walls. Though these techniques can work quite well for domestic dwellings, they did not work well at all for classrooms, providing an unstable and unsettling place for children to learn. The fundamental absence of large, frequently-tended fireplaces in schools, meant that the walls were crumbling and the foundation was deteriorating, as there was no heat or smoke to dry and preserve the clay which is a critical element required to sustain the main structure. Due to this, the Plateau’s heavy rainfalls quickly degraded the corrugated tin roof making the classroom structure an unsafe and unfit habitat for children to learn. As a result of this, the foundations of the classrooms were cold, muddy and often wet – especially when the Plateau’s heavy rainfalls come during wet seasons restricting children to attend class sessions and learn.
The untreated and thin corrugated metal roofing sheets rusted through the classroom’s structure much long ago.
Space was also an issue – there simply wasn’t enough room for the school’s 165 students in its four small classrooms. Though unstable, the bamboo benches gave some students a place to sit within a minimal capacity, however the real difficulty and challenge they were facing was having no desks to support their books when they were writing, and were therefore having to balance their books and write on their laps.
An absence of desks forces children to write in books perched on their laps. The rocks were used as benches when the classroom became 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 School has 165 children, between 7 and 14 years of age. 85 of these are girls and 80 are boys. They are taught in Swahili, learning to read and write, numeracy, science and French. But their education goes well beyond this. The involvement of Batwa families in building the school meant that many of their children are enrolled in school for the first time; mixing with children from other tribes and establishing an understanding of one another from an early age. Understanding and respect that will play a vital part in promoting inter-ethnic peace in the future.
The construction of the new Bibangwa school has been built with durable materials – solid brick walls with deep foundations, galvanized (rust resistant) metal roofing sheets, and cement floors. It has been designed to last and to protect children from the cold weather and the heavy rainfall.
The new desks and benches in the school’s six classrooms now provide every child a place to comfortably sit and learn in a stable and fit capacity. They’ll no longer have to stoop over books and write in books perched on their laps, and the windows allow natural light to illuminate the classrooms for children to be able to learn without having the unpleasant distraction of an uncomfortable and unfit environment, with damp and dark surroundings.
The following images are from other schools which we’ve built on the Plateau and provide an idea of the new school known as “The Virdee School” of which the children of Bibangwa are now able to attend:
Thick, galvanized metal roofing sheets and guttering keep rain out of the classrooms
Benches and desks, made by local carpenters, allow the children to sit and write in comfort and stability.
Partnership has been 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.
Children in Crisis has been working with their local partner, Ebenezer Ministry International (EMI) , to educate and protect children on the Plateau for the past ten years. By building new schools and training teachers, Children in Crisis aims to reach every child and create the opportunity for them to break out of the cycle of poverty, isolation and conflict.
The contributions made by the Bibangwa community have been critically important for the successful establishment of The Virdee School. Bibangwa is one of the most remote places in which we have undertaken school construction, therefore we wouldn’t have been able achieve our mission if it wasn’t for the significant help provided by the local community. Trucks have had to offload building materials at the end of one of the few dirt roads which serve the area. One of the many contributions from the community have been to physically carry these materials, including heavy metal roofing materials, by hand or head on a 2-hour walk over hilly terrain to Bibangwa due to the lack of infrastructure and transport availability in the area.
Koy Thomson, Chief Executive of Children in Crisis, said “On hearing of our mission to reach the forgotten and most disadvantaged children in remote and often conflict affected environments, Professor Peter Virdee showed no hesitation in reaching out to us to ask how a partnership with The Virdee Foundation might be able to help us improve the lives of more children. From the earliest days, the Virdee Foundation has shown a depth of critical understanding and engagement which has helped work through all obstacles and difficulties; such as when resurgent conflict delayed the school inauguration”.
The amazing work has finally been completed through the immense efforts and contributions from both our Partners and Bibangwa’s local community…
EMI, our Congolese partners, have worked closely with Bibangwa’s parents to help them successfully complete the construction work of the new school. The following images show the community members carrying stones, which were being gathered for the school’s foundations. The first image below show structures of bamboo cages that were laid out, where each cage represented the foundation stones that were collected by one family – as a result, you can see there were plenty of families involved where women were doing very much of the heavy work.
“The location of this school was particularly challenging.” said Thea Lacey, Programme Manager of Children in Crisis. “The Plateau has very few roads, and all of these are dirt tracks, passable only at some times of year. The school itself has no roads leading to it, only footpaths, requiring a demanding trek with building materials, often carried on the heads of the parents of the children. It is a remarkable commitment by local communities, only made possible by the partnership with the Virdee Foundation.”
Foundations stones were being gathered by the local community members. Each bamboo basket individually represented a different family’s contribution illustrating the number of families involved in this tremendous project.
Women who were gathering foundation stones (more like rocks!)
The contract, in which EMI, Children in Crisis and Bibangwa community agreed to our responsibilities in the successful development and construction of the new school which was also signed off. As shown below, the Head of the Women’s Committee, who was helping with the construction of the new school, signed her signature on the school construction contract.
The Head of the Women’s Committee signs the school construction contract.
Koy Thomson, Chief Executive of Children in Crisis stated “I very much hope that our partnership with The Virdee Foundation will go from strength to strength. Good partnerships are founded on shared values, celebrating what we achieve while also enduring through challenges. These are qualities that have been amply demonstrated in this new school, our first step together”.