A day in the life of the DRC’s kids

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Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER - KEM KNAPP SAWYER

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’.

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