With 13 classrooms Nyakiliba is the largest school to be built in Virunga.
The school that the Belgian missionaries built here in 1947 had three classrooms and stood almost unchanged as everything changed around it: empire gave way to independence and the demand for education grew exponentially. That demand has not been met until now.
The program in general and this huge school in particular demonstrate not only how much needs to be done but also how much can be done; how easily it can be done and how efficiently. Work on a much needed replacement school may not have begun until November 2009, but it ended in March 2010; and the school is already fully functional.
The school is run by Desiré Majoro, who was born two kilometres away in Musaga, in 1968. He is a family man. He and his wife Asteria have seven children – 4 girls and 3 boys – all of whom are in secondary school.
He is a highly qualified and experienced teacher who took up his current position in 2005. In a country in which people are understandably disaffected with politics, armed struggle and bureaucracy, working in education, like working in conservation, is considered a legitimate expression of patriotism. Being a ranger or a teacher you can protect and help the landscape, life and people of your country directly. In Director Majoro’s words, ‘I got into education to help my brothers and sisters.’
The School at a Glance
There are 595 pupils in the school:
Year 1 155 60
Year 2 100 37
Year 3 68 32
Year 4 59 15
Year 5 29 6
Year 6 19 14
School Day: 07.15 – 13.20 with two ten minute breaks; one at 10.00 and the other at 11.40.
Age Range: In DRC children attend primary school from the age of 6 until they are 12. But this pattern has been disrupted here, as in many other places, by war: some of the children at the school are as old as 15.
Curriculum: The children follow the National Curriculum that includes Mathematics, French, History, Geography, Science, Art and Music. They would like to study computing but at the time of writing there have no electricity supply and they do not own any computers.
Sport: The boys play football. Both boys and girls play volleyball whenever they can. But they don’t have a pitch or a ball so they don’t play very much. They try to arrange fixtures with other schools but this isn’t easy either. There aren’t enough schools nearby to make a league or cup system that would work.
Fees: 3,500 Ugandan Shillings per month per child just to pay the teachers (NB. They pay in Ugandan currency because they are right next to the Ugandan border). And an additional 2,200 Ugandan Shillings per term per child that goes toward the operational costs of school – pens, chalk, books etc.
Teacher’s Pay: $30 per month.
This school, like all the other schools in the program, gets no money whatsoever from the Government – not for the teachers’ salaries; not even for basic materials. Some of the children at the school – like the Pygmy kids and the orphans – cannot pay anything, ever. Even the parents who can pay are dirt poor and they struggle to pay fees and to buy uniforms. Most of the parents are subsistence farmers who grow potatoes, beans and corn. 23 of the children have a ranger as a parent.
As you can see from the above table there are far fewer girls at the school than there are boys. We have seen a similar imbalance in all the schools we have financed. It’s not peculiar to the area: it’s a problem across this region. Indeed it’s a problem anywhere that people are terribly poor. Girls cannot be spared from subsistence life and they are less likely than boys to be able to use their education to succeed. They’ll almost certainly get married, bear a large number of children and be saddled with looking after their original families anyway. On this subject the Director, a man who sent all his sons and daughters to school, said: ‘educating all children is one of our greatest challenges. The inequality is still significant but we try and effect change through the parents whenever we can.’
During the war at the end of 2008 many people in the area fled to Uganda, including the Director. Some people stayed here, but because of the insecurity and the fighting the school closed for two months. After that, for obvious reasons, it took a while to get back to normal. The pupils and staff are back now and they’re installed in their new buildings. But they’ll need a great deal of support if they are to maintain and improve Nyakiliba in the future.
These buildings were built by the European Union in a short period of time and with a relatively small amount of money. But a school is much more than the buildings that house it and, in the years ahead, we face the much tougher challenge of supporting this school as an institution. We hope that this school will educate generations of Jomba’s children and that because of it Jomba will develop in partnership with the park. With your help we can make this happen. Nyakiliba Primary School is not just any school; it’s a school that people are proud of and delighted with. Look at the pictures: attractive, safe buildings made up of light, airy classrooms that are full of happy, eager pupils. The school’s Director puts it better: ‘This is an amazing thing. We are all ecstatic. This is a vision from God.’