Give Peace a Chance: Amani's Dream of a Peace School

Amani Matabaro, our partner in Congo, works to empower and educate women and children in his native eastern Congo via Actions for the Welfare of the Women and Children of Kivu (ABFEK). A college graduate and former teacher, Amani speaks several languages fluently, is a husband, a father of six, and is known as “Papa Amani” to the 115 vulnerable or orphaned children he sends to school through an education assistance program. In Congo, where years of war have decimated the population and over 5 million people have died from the fighting and the resulting poverty, HIV and other illnesses, education offers hope for a different, better, peaceful future. Through the support of American non-profits including Action Kivu, Kids4CongoKids, Rotary Clubs and others, Amani is making this happen.

The current village schools, mud rooms with little light or equipment, are not up to the challenge, and Amani dreams of opening a Peace School. Using the land where his childhood home is built in the village of Mumosho, Amani, whose name is translated “Peace” in Swahili, has plans for a school to serve all the at-risk children in the district. To offer a free and safe education, teaching not only the basic Congolese curriculum, but to build up the future leaders of a peaceful Congo through the education of human rights, the arts, non-violent communication, good-governance and community building.

The cost to build the infrastructure of the school, including a health care facility and an area for a goat and cow husbandry project to provide milk and nutrition for the kids and bio-fuel and fertilizer for the ABFEK shared farm, is approximately $100,000.00 USD. All donations via ActionKivu.org are tax deductible, and nearly 100% (minus nominal banking fees) go directly to the work on the ground, due to the all-volunteer staff in the U.S. To support the building of the school, please note “Peace School” on your PayPal donation or check.

In the current village schools in the Mumosho district in eastern Congo, the kids sit shoulder-to-shoulder on rows of short wooden benches, their knees acting as desks, their feet clad in dusty rubber sandals rest on the dirt floor, a blackboard the teacher’s only tool. A sunny day, the window cut out of the mud wall allows a bit of light into the dark room. The school uniform is a bright, cobalt blue skirt for the girls and shorts for the boys, their white shirts ranging from button downs to tee-shirts, all yellowed with age and dirt, frayed and torn. Almost every child sports a pair of rubbery plastic sandals in a variety of neon colors that are dulled by dust.

On Action Kivu's recent visit, we were introduced to Shukura, a 10-year-old girl in the 4th grade, sponsored by ABFEK / Action Kivu, who is at the top of her class. In fact, all girls had taken the top three spots of the fourth grade, the other two sponsored by Kids4CongoKids. Sponsoring kids, especially girls, whose families cannot afford the 5$/month school fees, makes a marked difference in a community where poor families often choose to educate sons over daughters.

Shukura tells us shyly that she wants to be a teacher when she graduates. Most of the children in the schools we visited plan to be doctors or teachers, two of the only professions they see in their villages. Zawadi, however, whose name means "gift," wants to be an agronomist. The land here is wildly rich, but despite the beans, bananas, corn and cassava growing like weeds, many of the children are malnourished.

Zawadi is in the second grade at APSED, a sort of charter school formed by neighborhood parents who wanted to ensure war orphans and poverty stricken kids receive an education. ABFEK / Action Kivu sponsors 19 kids there. With so many children at the school, and only three small, dirt-floored classrooms, the kids only go a half day, so the other classes can meet the second half.

We waited to meet 11 of the sponsored kids in the principal's office, a few chairs and two desks filling the room, posters of basic anatomy and a hand-printed list of the school's objectives decorated the mud-brown walls. The first girl, around eight years old, walked in and confidently shook our hands with a clear "Bonjour! ça va?" An extremely serious boy wearing a torn shirt with a brick red collar somberly shook our hands, then solemnly gave Amani a fist-bump.

The principal explained that the kids at APSED school come from particularly bad situations, and that it is his job to encourage them. Many live with extended family or host families, having lost parents in the conflict. He singled out one little girl, showing how her right ankle and leg curved unnaturally out, making it difficult for her to walk and play. She was scared speechless by the cameras and the muzungus (white people), her lips moving, but making no sound. The serious boy, Bisimwa, volunteered to take her place, putting her out of her misery. Without cracking even the smallest smile, he told us how he likes science and nature, and plans to be a teacher. He lives with his dad, after his mother died.

Ashuza stepped into frame, wearing an over-sized tee-shirt that nearly covered his blue shorts. He balanced easily on his right foot, his left foot twisted inward at a right angle. The principal explained that he was born with the defect, another reminder how few medical treatments are available or affordable here. Ashuza loves to read, and wants to be a doctor. They took the gifts of crayons and candy (snack-sized snickers, m&ms and twix) with a whispered "merci," and carefully put the chocolate in their pockets, to savor later.

These children in eastern Congo have experienced only uncertainty, and seem to have a hard time envisioning a bright future. In response to Amani's question, "What is wrong with Congo," the kids at Burembo Elementary answered:

• Hunger
• Killings
• People robbed going to and from mining areas
• Rape against women should stop
• Theft
• Teachers should be paid

When you were 6 or 10 or 12, did you even think about what was wrong in your country? How would you have answered the question? How can we create change so the next generation of Congolese kids answers differently?

From Amani: Sub-Saharan Africa has over 30 million kids who have no access to education. Their countries governed by ill-intentioned politicians and warlords, they are often used as child soldiers for armed groups. The peace school will offer conflict besieged children a chance for an education, and act to prevent conflict by educating the young generation.



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