A day in the life of the DRC’s kids
SEVENTY-FIVE third-graders, all in uniforms – a white shirt and navy pants or skirt – sit at their desks. The teacher holds up two plants, one in each hand, and asks the pupils to identify them. Many hands go up, and they answer: “Banana, mango!”
The school is located in Goma, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The land outside the city is green, rich and fertile. Just 20km to the north is Mount Nyiragongo, a volcano that erupted in 2002, destroying roads and large sections of the city. There has been little peace in the area. Frequent attacks by rebel groups have made Goma a difficult place to grow up. But at school, children feel protected.
Marceline Bauma, 8, listens attentively as her teacher, Salomon Mulezi, continues with the science lesson. When he asks the pupils to name other plants that grow in eastern DRC, they call out their favourite foods – beans, corn, potatoes and the greenleafed manioc.
The teacher stresses the importance of protecting plants. He tells them they should chase goats and chickens away from the plants. “But do this gently,” he says. “Don’t use rocks.”
After reviewing the main points of the lesson, he writes the homework on the board.
Marceline copies the question in her notebook: “How many days does a hen sit on her eggs?”
At 12.10pm, Marceline and her classmates go outside, where the more than 1 150 pupils in grades 1 to 6 are gathering in the courtyard for prayers and announcements. The assembly ends with a drum roll. Pupils leave the school, Notre Dame du Congo (“Our Lady of the Congo”), marching to the drumbeat.
Marceline and her friends walk home down the middle of the unpaved street. (There are very few cars in the area.)
A stone wall surrounds Marceline’s house as well as the family’s garden and chicken coop.
Marceline is hungry: School started at 6.30am and there was no time for a snack between classes. Her mother has prepared a big meal of rice and leaves from the manioc plant, cooked outdoors on a charcoal fire. Marceline has several brothers and sisters: Gloria, 18 months; Rosine, 3; Rita, 4; Arthur, 6; Fatuma, 12; and Olivier, 15. They all eat together.
Fatuma and Olivier were ad- opted from an orphanage Marceline’s parents run. It is called Orphelinat Amani – “Orphelinat” is French for “orphanage” and “Amani” is Swahili for “peace”.
Olivier likes to help Marceline with her homework using a chalkboard the family bought at the market. Marceline’s favourite subject is maths. This afternoon, Olivier is helping her with a French grammar lesson.
The baby falls asleep while Fatuma carries her on her back. Arthur and his friend play with a tyre rim, rolling it along the path near the garden.
Marceline’s mother and the little girls tend to the fruit and vegetables – green onions, beans, bananas, sugar cane and cabbage. The family has so much cabbage they will sell it in the market.
When it rains, everyone gathers inside. A huge barrel collects the rainwater. The house has no running water.
If there is little rain and the water supply is low, Fatuma and Marceline walk more than a kilometre to fetch some.
In the early evening Marceline finishes her homework. The family eat together and chat, sometimes listening to music on the radio. There is no electricity – the only light comes from an oil lamp. Marceline and her brothers and sisters are in bed by 8pm.
Marceline attends school from Monday to Saturday; on Sunday, she goes to church with her mother. Her father stays home to make a big breakfast.
In recent years there has been fighting in Marceline’s neighbourhood. When there have been attacks, the family were able to escape and stay with friends in a safer part of town.
But for now the fighting has stopped.
Marceline sleeps well in her own bed – hoping this peace will last. – Washington Post
SCHOOL’S OUT: Marceline Bauma, 8, and her friends walk home from school after their lessons.
LINING UP: Pupils at Notre Dame du Congo march in line. The name of their school means ‘Our Lady of the Congo’.