In the vast rural landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), access to education is a significant challenge for many children. The lack of school infrastructure forces young ones to walk for miles each day to reach the nearest school, often located in a neighboring village. But amidst this complex reality, a glimmer of hope emerges. In the remote village of Bena Mulamba, a bold community is preparing for a school year like no other. This time, the children won’t have to face exhausting walks. No, this time, the school will be right at their doorstep.
At the heart of Bena Mulamba, in the Bakwa Mulumba chieftaincy, Lomami province, lies a village of about a hundred people. Nestled in a landscape where clay soil offers fruitful agricultural opportunities, Bena Mulamba is brimming with potential, particularly in the production of quality fired bricks for construction. However, despite these untapped resources, the village sorely lacks basic infrastructure such as a health center or a school.
Education has long been a major challenge for the Bena Mulamba community. Though it had no constructed building, a small informal school has existed in the village, to service children from first to sixth grade. However, older children were resigned to the difficult option of either moving to another village with a secondary school or staying with their families, which meant traveling long distances every day.
Schools made from wood and grass are common in rural areas of the DRC. However, while these structures are better than nothing, they come with significant drawbacks. In cases of rain, children routinely find themselves in conditions that are unfit for even basic learning. Moreover, these schools need to be regularly rebuilt, making long-term sustainability difficult.
“Every week, we regularly gather at the patriarch’s house to discuss our community and its challenges. But I remember that day, it was like a dream. We were discussing the upcoming school year and worrying about access to education in our village when one of us suggested an idea that would change everything,” explains patriarch Remy.
Despite the Bena Mulamba having a long tradition of community meetings, the practice seems to be increasingly rare in many villages. The patriarch explains that their ancestors used to gather around a fire every evening to discuss and exchange ideas on all topics related to their well-being and making decisions that transformed their way of lives.
However, according to the patriarch, the tradition has been derailed in recent times as community members have been more concerned with their own interests, much like in cities. “However, in Bena Mulamba, we strive to remain united and gather every week to share. That’s how last August, after a meeting, we decided to build a school ourselves for our children.” These are our children, this is our village. Of course, a good school building could come from elsewhere, from the government or a member of the diaspora, but that hasn’t happened in years. So, it’s up to us to do it, for our children, for our village,” he concludes.
After that particular meeting, the patriarch recounts making an announcement throughout the village to gather all the people with experience in construction for the project. This brought together a significant number of people ready to undertake the challenge. They started by making unfired bricks because, according to Benjamin Kayemba, a mason, “we not only need the mold for fired bricks, but also wood for the firing process, and we don’t have trees for that purpose.”
“I really despise this notion of hand-me-downs for Africa, and for our
community. I can’t stand it. We deserve the best.”
Indeed, Bena Mulamba is characterized by savannah vegetation, which explains the absence of forests. However, the village has a considerable number of palm trees. The Bena Mulamba community welcomed this project with joy and organized themselves in solidarity. Some took care of water, others of food, construction, brick-making, etc. Everything was done in synergy, with great passion.
The walls and the roof proved the most challenging. However, ultimately the challenges were overcome because interest in the idea was shared by many people, especially those from the diaspora, who did not hesitate to offer their support by providing construction materials such as corrugated sheets and nails.
After a few weeks, the school building was roofed. The community now has a reliable building consisting of six classrooms that can accommodate approximately 40 students each. Further, the building is a great boon for secondary students as they can use it for their studies in the afternoon, after the primary school students have used it in the morning.
The positive impact of the community initiative is immeasurable as the children of Bena Mulamba no longer have to travel long distances to access education and are no longer forced to study outdoors without a building.
“Mudimua eh, tuyaya mukalasa ka muetu!!!” exclaimed a group of children in Tshiluba at the school construction site. This means “On Monday, we will go to our village school.”
This initiative strengthens the sense of pride and belonging to the community and inspires many other villages to take matters into their own hands and undertake initiatives for the well-being of their community.