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The Congo: A bit like Holland?

We left Goma this morning and drove along the lakeside to where the tarmac runs out and the beaten dirt road starts winding its way up the hills. The sun makes the leaves a lush, luminous green. Men push wooden scooters laden with bright yellow jerry cans along the side of the road, their skin so covered in black volcanic dust they shine like metal. Women sway along the road with impossibly heavy loads on their heads – a tray piled high with fruit, a furled golf umbrella, a bedframe.

Nadege, our education officer for Kitschanga, is sitting beside me. “C’est comme Holland,” she informs me.

Quoi? It’s like Holland?

I’m bewildered. I haven’t been to Holland for a while, but this really isn’t how I remember it. We’re at 2,000 metres for a start, and the hills are hard to miss. I haven’t seen a single tulip or windmill, and I’m fairly sure motorbikes in Holland have fewer than five people on them. Trees in Holland tend not to grow bananas, clogs are not made of eucalyptus and fuel comes in wires to your house rather than sacks topped with tiny thatched roofs to keep the charcoal dry.

So what then is like Holland? A few miles on we turn a corner and the answer becomes clear. There are Friesian cows up here on a plateau. It still doesn’t look much like Holland, there’s far too much topography, but if you squint a bit and take into account the moody sky it could just be Northumberland.

With the mystery solved we carry on to a school where Save the Children about to start working. The school director, Theophile, has carefully constructed shelves out of old cardboard boxes and marked them with neat labels. There are 17 classrooms at the school, he tells us, three of which need refurbishing.

We visit one that needs refurbishing. It doesn’t need refurbishing. It needs building. There are no walls. There’s no floor. There’s very little roof. Some would call it a frame, but others clearly call it a classroom as inside there are benches and a used blackboard hanging from a nail. They’re all sodden from the rain.

Happily we have budget to build! The frame will become a building and children will stay dry at school and not be at risk of getting pneumonia.

However, there is a problem. We’ve been running very successful catch-up classes here for children who weren’t able to go to school at the right age. Theophile is happy to take these children into his school now that they’ve caught up with their peers, but where will he put them? If all of the children who are
ready to go to school do go to school, he will have a teacher to child ratio of 1:74.

Theophile needs eight more functioning classrooms to keep his teacher: student ratio at 1:50. And eight more trained teachers. We’re well underway to doing some of this, but there’s more to be done. Time, I think, to start fundraising.

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