TOP IMAGE: Leonilde* (left) is 11 years old and she lives in the Sofala province in the central part of Mozambique. In the village there’s a child friendly space where Leonilde is taking part in the activities. © Courtesy of Save the Children
The education system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is plagued by low coverage and poor quality—causing a ripple effect for the 3.5 million school-aged children who aren’t enrolled in school. In the DRC, around 65 per cent of women are illiterate compared to 12 per cent of men, according to UNESCO.
In the eastern region of the DRC, where over five million people are displaced due to armed conflict, schools struggle to provide education and safety for children.
Save the Children’s Ni Someshe! (Teach Me, in Swahili) project is working to change this by providing support to students, their families and teachers to ensure every child has access to quality education.
Education is a fundamental human right, but discrimination, violence, and stigma often stand in the way of girls’ right to learn and reach their full potential. What’s more is that poverty and violence exposes girls to early and forced pregnancy and marriage, which can, in turn, limit their agency and opportunities for the rest of their lives.
For children at risk of not having access to education, programs are being brought in to support in the DRC.
Ni Someshe: Teach Me!
Families, schools, and teachers are dealing with a lack of materials and school supplies, teacher workload, lack of clean water, and safe washing facilities. On top of that, in a time marked by humanitarian conflict and concern for children’s safety, young girls and boys need a helping hand to access the education they deserve.
Save the Children developed the Ni Someshe! project, funded by Global Affairs Canada, to provide that support to girls and boys in the region, allowing them to access their right to education and to feel safe and secure at school and in their communities.
Save the Children has worked in the DRC since 1994 to meet humanitarian needs linked to the massive displacement of populations due to armed conflict in eastern provinces, especially in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Kasai-Oriental and Lomami in the centre of the country. Save the Children is developing activities in the health and nutrition, education, and protection sectors so that no community, including the most vulnerable children, is left behind.
Through the Ni Someshe! project, 300 families have received financial assistance of $45. This money was used to buy school supplies, shoes and school uniforms. Money was also used to start businesses for long-term financial independence. The project data shows that 37,959 children have received school kits, which include a backpack, notebooks, pencils, soap, and other basic supplies.
More than a tool for improving education, this program is also creating a space for the community. Through feedback mechanisms, parents and teachers can communicate their complaints and share the struggles that their children face. Each month, the complaints are reviewed by a committee so that there is a better understanding between the community members and the project leaders. Those who cannot write are not left behind, either—the program has a hotline available where people can share their concerns.
“The involvement of community members through the local structures that the project has put in place has allowed communities to capitalize on the project’s achievements,” said Edouard Niyonzima, Program Manager. “For example, the RECOPEs (Community Child Protection Network) who have been trained on protection and education and who are now sensitizing children on the importance of education, especially for girls. More than 5,000 children who were out of school are now studying.”
The RECOPE are community groups responsible for identifying, documenting, screening, sensitizing, and referring child protection cases (including cases of sexual violence). They also actively participate in the reintegration process of children into formal and informal school systems.
Students, too, can feel safe sharing suggestions with their teachers. In one project-supported school in Uvira, this process was the catalyst for change. In this busy school, overwhelmed teachers needed help and resources to ensure respect for the rights of the child and to ensure that teachers were using positive discipline strategies to manage classrooms, rather than punitive approaches.
Save the Children and the Ni Someshe! project provided sensitivity training for teachers, parents, and students, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. Before Ni Someshe!, teachers would physically punish children. After the program’s sensitivity training, teachers worked with students and trainers to develop a better approach, using communication and correction methods. Now, teachers affirm and empower students to learn.
The Ni Someshe! project developed codes of conduct in all targeted schools, which, in turn, allowed every member of the school, from the headmaster to teachers and students, to feel supported and valued. These codes of conduct were also well received by parents and contributed to more positive practices within the home.
A Better Future for Girls
Ni Someshe! has also helped in achieving gender equality in DRC schools. Although schools are not always a safe place for children, when teachers and school administrators are engaged—as they have been in this project—it can result in a more gender-equal school that protects and supports all students and acts as a protective place—especially for girls—who are more likely to marry early if they drop out of school.
Before Save the Children started programming, many girls did not attend school due to harmful social and gender norms. Now, girls not only attend school, but they also have the necessary support to feel safe and secure in their learning environment.
While on a visit to a Ni Someshe! project school, Danny Glenwright, president and CEO of Save the Children, shared that one of the most incredible parts of the Ni Someshe! project is the impact it has made on achieving gender equality in DRC schools.
“Through this project, we’ve really emphasized the importance of making sure that girls can come to school, that they’re supported to come to school, and that when they are at school, they are safe.”
These changes have led to more empowered girls who prioritize their education and are better equipped to make informed decisions about their future.
The project also implemented a leadership training program for 211 female teachers, which led to a group of female teachers forming their own savings and loan group to raise money for school activities and to encourage and support each other to take on leadership roles.
“In conflict-affected areas such as the Ni Someshe! area, it is important to understand that when children are in school, it is a way to protect them, as school is the ultimate protection,” Niyonzima said. “When the adolescent child does not study, he can be easily recruited by an armed group. For girls who do not study, it is very easy for them to get married very early. Education is one of the means of development of the child, it is really a way to prepare for the child for a better future.”
A Day of Change
On June 16th, Save the Children observes the International Day of the African Child, raising awareness around the continuing need for quality education and opportunities for children in Africa. The Ni Someshe! project serves as an inspiring example of how education can be used as a tool for change in conflict-affected communities, helping children and families build a better future for themselves and their communities.
Learn more at savethechildren.ca
For over 100 years, Save the Children advanced children’s rights around the world. We do whatever it takes every day and in times of crisis — to give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.