Since the beginning of the new school year, schools in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are marred by ongoing rebel conflicts, with classrooms squatted by displaced refugees to flee war and seek sanctuary.
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In Rumangabo, a town of the North Kivu province, currently the epicenter of violent armed conflicts between the government army and rebels of the March 23 Mouvement (M23), around 4,000 displaced people are scattered across different schools, making classrooms and resources more scarce than before.
Marie Simire and her six children, who fled Bunagana City which was taken control by the rebels, now live in a small makeshift house in a school. Her husband was killed by a stray bullet on his way home while he was working the fields when the government army and the M23 crossed fires.
Like most of her fellows in the village, she and her children fled for days on foot and finally settled down in the school during the summer vacation. As the new school year started on Sept. 5, life has become more harsh and difficult.
"I arrived here with my children for a few months without taking anything from our abandoned house in Bunagana. Now the studies have resumed but I do not have the capacity to send my children to class due to the lack of means and difficult conditions in which we currently live at this site," she explained.
Jean-Baptiste Habyarimana, the head of the Rumangabo center primary school, pointed out the cruel fact that the school is at capacity and the massive displacement have become a huge conundrum for both the displaced refugees and the school kids.
"The schools are almost totally occupied by displaced people from villages far from this city. A situation that makes it difficult for us to function as a school," said Habyarimana.
Schools are jam-packed with people seeking refuge, some displaced children spend their day chopping wood and selling it at the makeshift market as the only way to survive.
"The majority of the children at this site do not go to school. This is how they prefer to resort to these jobs of cutting just to survive. We deplore this situation, which risks affecting the future of these children in the long term," insisted Katitima Justin, head of a make-shift refugee site in Rumangabo.
Asked about the current school situation in areas troubled by clashes between the army and the M23 rebels, the military governor of North Kivu Constant Ndima acknowledged that about 70 percent of the schools are being affected.
"This situation which has affected the school sector since the start of the school year is more than dramatic and it goes beyond our jurisdiction at the provincial level," said Constant Ndima, promising "quick solutions" for the affected children.
For the military authorities of North Kivu, the effective solution remains that of restoring peace in this part of the country as soon as possible in order to allow the displaced population to return to their homes.
For Simire, however, going home seems like a sheer delusion as her hometown is still in the hands of the rebels who are deemed as "terrorists" by the Congolese government. Since the end of March 2022, the M23 has been on the offensive in DRC's northeastern province of North Kivu, where several townships fell into the hands of the rebels for months.