Education and The Fight Against a Rape Epidemic in Congo

 

 

The UN has labeled Congo the “Rape Capital of the World. Photograph: Phil Moore/ AFP/ Getty Images

 

The land of Gold and Blood is a befitting portrayal of the paradox of wealth in the DRC, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. In this book, authored by Sebastian Muyengo, poverty is mental, human, and structural, rather than predominantly material. Congo’s natural mineral resources are unmatched. The country has vast resources of modernity: rubber for tires, copper, and iron for industry, diamonds, uranium for nuclear warheads and coltan for cell phones. It is also rivaled by few countries in the sheer number of armed groups and youth militias that have claimed millions of lives and raped hundreds of thousands of women. (The New York Times)

The rape epidemic in the Congo crossed the limits of perversion even in a country plagued by cases of drugged-up child soldiers. The United Nations called the DRC “the rape capital of the world” at a time when twisted acts like cutting out a woman’s fetus and forcing her friends to eat it or pulling the trigger of an assault rifle inside a woman’s body were rife and seemingly unstoppable. Today thousands of these women suffer in psychological trauma with very little help from a fractured government overwhelmed by the greed of politicians that have robbed the country blind.

Rape in the DRC has been used as a means of torture. “This type of sexual violence has little to do with sex and much more to do with power through a sort of terrorism.” Denis Mukwege. In 2014, Dr. Mukwege, an expert in reconstructive surgeries for rape victims, was the recipient of the EU’s highest human rights award, Sakharov Prize. After Congo’s second war, he founded the Panzi hospital after witnessing a brutal act of gang rape in his hometown of Bukavu in Eastern Congo. The hospital has been responsible for the treatment of over 40,000 rape survivors.

Dennis Mukegwe chats wth women at his treatment center in Eastern Congo. Photograph, Scott Baldauf

 

There are still numerous challenges in fighting rape in the DRC. The thought of reporting rape for most Congolese women is unthinkable. There are social stigmas and the fear of endangering their lives by reporting cases to the police. According to Dr. Mukwege, the voices of women need to be reinforced and this requires advocacy and education about women’s rights at both a national and international level. Perhaps for the people of Congo, the greater hurdle is to rally the men to become protectors and not destroyers of life

How can education win the war against rape in the DRC? According to Dr. Mukwege, the prevalence of rape culture is rooted in deep ignorance and desensitization that is perpetuated since childhood. “The concept of equality begins in children’s minds with the very first contact. We usually tell girls to dress a certain way and instill fear in them, but we don’t tell boys about how to behave and consequences of bad behavior” he says. Besides his medical work, Dr. Mukwege has in the recent past advocated for the education of men about sexual violence. His work has involved the reintegration of former soldiers into local communities through counseling. (The Guardian)

The children recruited in their teens to become ruthless soldiers are top on Dr. Mukwege’s intervention strategy. The story of an 80-year old woman who was gang-raped as she screamed to her teenage assailants “Grandsons! Get off me!” is a testament to the uphill task that needs to be done. The work of Dr. Mukwege could seem like a vain attempt to rescue the dying flame of humanity in a generation of kids who have been indoctrinated to destroy life physically and psychologically. His strong beliefs have led to organized groups where boys discuss violence and women gather to demand rights and reparations.

References

The New York Times: The World’s Worst War. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/sunday-review/congos-never-ending-war.html

Inside Congo’s Rape Crisis.Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.com/inside-congos-rape-crisis-2095817

Dennis Mukwege: Sakharov Price Winner and Champion of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.euronews.com/2014/11/26/denis-mukwege-sakharov-prize-winner-and-champion-of-human-rights

Rape is Used to Terrorize the Population: Says DRC Gynaecologist. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/rape-congo-doctor-denis-mukwege

Retrieved from https://sojo.net/magazine/septemberoctober-2015/land-gold-and-blood

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Challenging the Conflict Discourse:A closer look at China’s examination system

The face of conflict is not always guns and bloodshed. At least not in the most populous country in the world. Educational conflict in China – where cheating in examinations means serious jail time – is about social class and opportunities.  When the Chinese government announced, the redistribution of education opportunities to the poor and ethnic minorities, the decision was met with protests across social media. It was a decision that shrunk the odds of middle and upper-class children from gaining access to top higher education schools in the country, (New York Times).

University admissions in China are a cut-throat affair.  Getting a placement in good universities which are concentrated in affluent cities, essentially dictates your future. It translates into well-paying jobs, a good social standing and upward mobility in China’s meritocracy. This year alone, over 9.5 million school children trooped to examination centers to take the National College Entrance Examination known as Gaokao. Local students from wealthier regions like Wuhan in Central China and Baoding in Beijing had more slots available to them compared to their counterparts from poor cities like Luoyang in Henan Province. The ministry of education’s plan to reduce the placement of local students and open up more slots to outsiders from impoverished regions, raised concerns about ‘fairness in education’.

Equitable distribution is a contested subject between the social classes. While the wealthy claim that they work just as hard to get placement in the top universities, the poor people’s comeback is that the rich are quick to utilize resources from rural areas, but reluctant in allowing the underprivileged to attend good schools in the prosperous cities.  On the other hand, a publication by the BBC put into perspective the significance of the Gaokao season in China.  These standardized examinations that have been the center point of China’s educational system since the 1950’s have shaped the country’s social fabric.

Families that have the means often hire professional tutors known as Gaokao nannies to help their children revise for the examinations. Nannies can earn as much as 45$ a night to stay up with the candidates and coach them. Hotels also cash in on this season, by providing Gaokao packages that provide competitive rates for candidates who live far from test centers. In most cases, these rooms get fully booked despite the soaring per night prices that could hit the equivalent of 290$. Perhaps the most famous Gaokao season event takes place in Maotanchang School in China’s Anhui province. In this institution labeled a test-prep factory by the New York Times, parents dig deep into their pockets to raise as much as 8000$ for the tuition program.

The Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed shares his disapproval of this form of education and christens it Banking Education. His view claims that children should not be viewed as containers that are recipients of knowledge provided by educators, but they should be molded to be free thinkers. While many other critics question this entrenched examination culture of the Gaokao, for many in China it is a delicate matter that cannot be compromised.  

References

The New York Times China Threatens Jail Time for College Entrance Exam Cheaters June 7, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/08/world/asia/china-exam-gaokao-university-cheating.html

The New York Times: China Tries to Redistribute Education to The Poor, Igniting Class Conflict June 11, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/world/asia/china-higher-education-for-the-poor-protests.html

Gaokao Season: China Embarks on Dreaded National Exams, June 7, 2016. Retrieved fromhttp://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-36457453

Freire, Paulo., (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Retrieved from https://selforganizedseminar.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/freire_pedagogy_oppresed1.pdf

Reading from a Different Script: Battling The Struggle to Assimilate Syrian Refugees in Europe.

Children gathered for a class under a tent at the Oraiokastro refugeee camp. Jihan Sheikh Mohammed saish she would prefeter that her 9-year-old daughet attend a local school rather than receive the makeshift lesson on site. Credit Angelos Tzortzinis for the New York Times

The journey of 9-year-old Mariya bint Loqman from Syria to Europe is emblematic of journeys taken by thousands of refugees fleeing the ravages of war in the Middle East. Touching ground in Greece after a perilous boat ride across the Aegean Sea from Turkey led Mariya to a shabby refugee camp run by the state. In the confines of this temporary haven, only bare necessities were available to her and education was not one of them. When the Greek government decided to provide Mariya, together with 22,000 other children an opportunity to attend public school, the plan faced intense opposition from the local residents. (The New York Times).

In many countries across Europe that have received an influx of immigrants, there has been a stiff resistance against assimilating these refugees into the society. In the case of Greece, it is parents in various school communities that have waged the fight against admitting  children like Mariya into public schools. In his article published on September 25, Niki Kitsantinos of the New York Times noted the openly discriminatory statements that cited the fear of contagious diseases from the refugee children. The parents also claimed that cultural differences would disrupt the learning process of their own children in the schools. A letter addressed to the Education Ministry in the town of Filippiada stated, “They come from another continent with completely different diseases and health conditions.”

There is a small minority of residents that speak in favor of enrolling the migrants, arguing that neighborhoods and schools lack the right to decide who should or should not be accepted. The voices of these minorities are often outnumbered, but some, like Katerina Karanikolaou, observe that the health concerns raised by the residents are only smoke screens underneath which xenophobia thrives. In Canada, roughly 5000 miles West of Greece, children such as Mariya are getting much more than the average refugee resettlement package. The Guardian explores Canada’s scheme to integrate refugees in an article published on September 26, titled “Canadians are embracing Syrian Refugees. Why Can’t We?”

Over 30,000 Syrians have been relocated to Canada, a country christened the immigration jackpot. The government does not settle migrants in camps, but across major cities and large towns.  In addition, over 300 communities across the country have pulled in efforts to provide housing, English lessons, courses in driving and Canadian traditions such as potluck dinners and poutine. Most of these efforts to integrate refugees are driven by families in smaller places like Nova Scotia where they are offered both financial support and friendship. This outpouring of passion is largely attributed to the body of a three year old boy called Alan Kurdi  that washed up on a Turkish beach after he drowned in a capsized vessel that was crossing the sea from Syria.

Islamaphobia, across European countries like Greece, continues to deepen, but stories of people that choose to read from a different script across Canada, are pivotal in addressing the plight of refugees. For now, thousands of children like Mirya are still in dire need of psychological and educational interventions.

References

The Guardian, Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/27/canadians-are-embracing-syrian-refugees-why-cant-we

The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/world/europe/greece-migrant-children-school.html

The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/31/alan-kurdi-death-canada-refugee-policy-syria-boy-beach-turkey-photo

 

 

TWO YEARS ON: THE EDUCATION CRISIS AFTER THE CHIBOK ABDUCTIONS

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Children look  through a destroyed classroom window at Yerwa Primary School, Maiduguri, Borno state, damaged by Boko Haram during attacks in 2010 and 2013. The school, established in 1915, was the first primary school in Northeast Nigeria. Copyright 2015 Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch

 

The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, seems like an ancient outcry lost in a history of hashtag movements that have occupied 21st Century media. 300 girls in the village of Chibok, Nigeria were featured in world headlines when one of the world’s deadliest terror groups, Boko Haram, kidnapped them from a boarding school on April 14, 2014.  According to the Washington Post, the unsuccessful search for these girls, to this day has become a symbolic failure of both the Nigerian government and its western-backed allies

In the fourteen years of its existence, Boko Haram has routinely targeted schools, teachers, and students in its war against western style education. By early 2016, over 959,029 children of school going age had been displaced from schools in the North Eastern part of Nigeria. Did the fate of these 300 girls, cast light on the extensive acts of terrorism perpetrated by this terrorist group? The influence of western media on this issue certainly played a role in concerted efforts by western countries to send troops to aid the Nigerian military. However, the slow progress of these efforts led to the waning attention of the media and by extension, the rest of the world. Far more disconcerting, is the little attention that has been given the thousands of children displaced from schools.nigeria0416_map-01_0

According to a publication by NORRAG, titled Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education,  the crisis created by Boko Haram in the Chad basin region, is comparable to that of the Syrian conflict. However, this humanitarian crisis has seen a shortfall of international funding compared to the Syrian crisis, where refugees have fled to neighboring countries in the region and to Europe.  Over the years, the fight against the terror group has been plagued with failures by the Nigerian government. The looting of money intended to fight terrorism, the occupation of schools and the violation of human rights by the military greatly affected the plight of children.

Nonetheless, small battles for education have been won by groups like the Education Must Continue Initiative (EMCI). Such community-based organizations have developed as a result of insufficient focus on education reform by the government. Other initiatives like the Nigerian Education Crisis Response Program, have set up informal learning centers in the North region of the country. These education initiatives have the huge challenge of providing safe learning environments and helping children cope with trauma.

There are still many children like the Chibok girls whose right to education has been robbed from them. Although a more globalized media opened Chibok to the world, it is often the interests of imperialist nations that have defined the narrative on the global media platform. For now, the focus of the international community has been on Syria and Iraq. While the United Nation agencies strive to raise funds to aid the people of North Eastern Nigeria, the country’s leadership should strengthen its governance structures in order to address the plight of a generation of children that might risk losing its chance at education.

References

Washington Post: What Happened After Interest Faded in the #BringBackOurGirls Campaign. May, 2016. Retrieved from  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/05/18/what-happened-after-interest-faded-in-the-bringbackourgirls-campaign/ 

NORRAG news: Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education: New Challenges for Development and Policy. May, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.norrag.org/cn/publications/norrag-news/online-version/refugees-displaced-persons-and-education-new-challenges-for-development-and-policy/detail/idps-and-education-in-north-east-nigeria-after-boko-haram.html

International Business Times: Nigeria’s Education Crisis: Boko Haram Targeting Schools, Teachers, Students Is Devastating Africa’s Largest Economy. December, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.com/nigerias-education-crisis-boko-haram-targeting-schools-teachers-students-devastating-2177842

Human Rights Watch: They set the classrooms on fire: Attacks on Education in Northeast Nigeria. April, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/04/11/they-set-classrooms-fire/attacks-education-northeast-nigeria

 

 

Child Violence and Non-Formal Education In South Sudan

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A teacher at Torit East Primary School in Torit, Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan, holds a solar-powered, wind-up radio as she gives her students a lesson using South Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction.Stuart Leigh, Real World Productions

 

July 9th was the birthday of the world’s youngest nation. Five years ago, in the city of Juba, the country marked its first independence ceremony after one of Africa’s longest civil wars. Although the birth of South Sudan was received with much fanfare, this new nation plunged into an internal ethnic conflict in December 2013. According to UNICEF, over 5.1 million children who have been affected by this conflict face critical issues that include violence and the lack of basic education.

The situation is dire for a generation of children in South Sudan where half of the population aged between 6 and 15 is out of school. The forceful recruiting of children from schools and the occupation of school buildings by military camps have undermined efforts to provide much needed education. A recent article by Aljazeera highlighted efforts by UNICEF to fund the reintegration of conscripted children into the society and the Disarmament Demobilization Reintegration Commission (DDRC) was tasked with releasing these children. Skye Wheeler, a human rights researcher noted that “a culture of impunity and lack of accountability has nurtured the view that child soldiers are an acceptable feature of wartime, and release a part of peacetime” This grave violation of human rights has become common practice and it has denied scores of children, their basic right to education.

Despite this grim picture, there have been efforts by aid organizations to provide education to some of the hardest hit conflict areas in the country.  According to FrontLine, a USAID publication, millions that have been displaced from their homes, have led to the closing of an estimated 70% of schools in the most conflict-affected regions like Jonglei and Upper Nile. The Radio Literacy Program, a USAID intervention, has proven to be a successful tool that has reached a broad audience using limited resources. In a country where only 35% of teachers have a primary level of education, radio literacy has complemented this shortfall by providing Interactive Radio Instruction. This medium has been used to teach English and Math, provide programs for teacher training and English language learning for adults. Radio has also been used to promote peace through community radio which has been implemented in regions with diverse ethnicities to create forums that promote inclusion and tolerance.

Today, the future of the children of South Sudan, hangs on a fragile peace agreement signed by the president Salva Kiir and the vice president, Riek Machar.  As the UN tries to broker lasting peace and put an end to the use of child soldiers, sustainable solutions such as the Radio Literacy Program, could go a long way in improving basic literacy. A recent feature by USA today on the rarity of education in South Sudan, put the situation into perspective in the words of John Deng, a 12-year-old. “We want to learn, even during war. Education will be the only thing that will get us out of this situation”  

 

References:

Human Rights Watch. We can die too https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/14/we-can-die-too/recruitment-and-use-child-soldiers-south-sudan

Wheeler, Sky., June 2015. War and Conflict in South Sudan: Children on the battlefield. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/06/south-sudan-children-battlefield-150604113603298.html

BBC news Jan 12, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36763076

BBC news July 11, 2016. South Sudan Clashes, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar order cease-fire. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36763076

Mayom, Jok., April 27, 2016. For children of war-torn South-Sudan, education is a rarity. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/04/27/children-war-torn-south-sudan-education-rarity/83542606/