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No solution to Virunga’s problems can be morally justifiable or practically successful if it does not address the living conditions of the people who live in and around the park. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect people to care about bio-diversity in general, and the park in particular, when their most basic requirements have not been met. Education is one of those requirements. So, as part of our solution, we have supported the building of schools in five of the villages in the southern sector of the park – Rumangabo, Bikenge, Jomba, Gatovu and Bukima.

In theory the school system in DRC is much as it is anywhere else. Primary education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and twelve. A Certificate of Primary Studies, awarded to students on successful completion of primary education, will allow them access to secondary education, which lasts for five or six years, depending on whether that education is general or technical.

But that description belies the reality of schooling in DRC. The school system, like much of the country’s social infrastructure, has been badly damaged by years of war and by chronic under-funding. The Kivu region has been particularly hard hit as it has been at the centre of all the epic conflicts of the last 15 years. What schools there are, are in disrepair, and school attendance is not the norm. According to the World Bank only 61% of children in DRC enroll in primary school and only 67% of people over 15 are literate. Many families cannot afford the enrollment fees and many others cannot afford to spare their children from the daily grind of subsistence life. Those children who can attend school often face a dangerous and difficult journey to get there.

However, the political and social climate in DRC is right for change. The most difficult hurdles have been cleared: the country is at peace with her neighbors and has a democratically elected government. The school system shows particular promise. The teachers are trained and motivated; and the parents and their children are aspirant, dynamic and eager. But they need more schools, and the schools that have been built need support.

The cost of building five schools in Virunga has been met by the European Union and The Murry Foundation. Soderu, the Congolese Wildlife Authority and Africa Conservation Fund have been the implementing partners on the ground. But we want the schools need materials, and support for an environmental education program.

Donating to this project will help to educate families, to develop communities and to protect the park in the future. And we can guarantee that all of the money you donate will be used efficiently and will go to the ground in its entirety as our admin fees are covered by the European Union.

The villages in which we are building these schools form a front line against the desperation that pushes people north from Goma to wreak havoc on Virunga’s forests and animals. Now and in the future that front line will be held by the people who live in these villages; by the attitudes they will have and the decisions they will take. By working in partnership with them we can help them to give their park a future.