Sustainable Education for the World’s Remotest Villages: Spotlight on Congo
Across the world, more than 115 million children are unable to attend school. Sabine Plattner African Charities aims to bring education that can be applied to real life, to the remotest villages deep within the jungle. We are also opening up access to elementary schooling in societies with low levels of education in order to offer not only children but also their parents the chance to improve their circumstances. By providing locally-based training in teaching methods and theory for instructors, we are offering something completely new and unique within Congo. Thanks to our long-term support for the establishment of educational facilities and processes, children and teachers become drivers of education through their own dynamism and motivation.
Sabine Plattner African Charities has achieved a number of successes since it first started working in Congo in May 2013:
Spotlight on Mbomo
Four-year-old Ridelvy from Mbomo was one of the first children to be enrolled by his parents. Yet despite his bright and inquisitive nature, Ridelvy did not have an easy start: He found it difficult to concentrate and to mix well with the other children, to the point that the lively boy was always rubbing others up the wrong way. Instead of using harsh words and punishments, as is customary elsewhere, we worked together to shift the focus onto Ridelvy’s strengths, develop strategies for him to control his emotions, and make this part of his daily routine. Today the boy is in the first grade in the elementary school and is the third-best in his year group of 300 children.
Spotlight on Olleme
The pygmy village of Olleme is home to around 20 families and lies in the jungle, surrounded by 50-meter high trees. There are few prospects for the inhabitants: Ever-increasing numbers of villagers are leaving for the nearest larger settlements. In order to stem this tide, the government began to build a school building out of bricks, but it is still awaiting completion and a reliable teacher. We proposed to the village elders that we visit the village every two weeks with the SPAC Education Mobile and hold classes in the shade of a centrally located tree. They were interested and keen to accept. As soon as the Land Cruiser arrived in Olleme, lots of enthusiastic villagers banded together to provide a special learning environment for their kindergarten-aged children. Using interactive methods, the teachers impart the material that is commonly taught in state-run kindergartens to the children, thus preparing them for grade school. The activities include learning games involving colours and numbers, and arts and crafts in small groups, while the little ones are taught to identify different plants using all five of their senses.
Spotlight on Ebana
The new SPAC satellite preschool, a traditional hut made of branches, is to be called Alemba. The village children have progressed in leaps and bounds and now speak better French than their parents. With guidance from the teachers, they are learning to work in small groups, enhancing their creativity through free play, and improving their verbal expression and social conduct. Consideration of others, the ability to settle arguments, and willingness to compromise are all encouraged. We teach them to wash their hands regularly and not to throw trash on the floor, encourage them to eat fruit and vegetables, and explain to their parents why fried meat is not suitable for children’s stomachs – a discovery that so surprised one mother that she has been attending classes ever since and working with us on a voluntary basis. Recently, she has even applied to SPAC to be a teacher at the new satellite school.
Spotlight on Mokongounda
Teacher training with SPAC takes one year. We are careful to find women in the villages who are committed and whose heart is in the right place. Educational and general knowledge is gradually imparted through close support and tuition. In the satellite schools, they will go on to teach children about things that they themselves have only just learned. For women like Pascaline, who is from the pygmy people, the training phase presents a particular challenge. As a child, she attended first and second grade only sporadically and therefore speaks only her native language and the national language, Lingala. She cannot read or write but is so motivated that in the three months between the interview and her appointment she learned French so well that she can now hold a good conversation. She is learning to write alongside the children, and practices diligently in the afternoons. At this point, instructions and curriculum plans can only be given to her verbally, but anyone who learns this fast is certainly a shining example for the children and the community as a whole!
Spotlight on Lango – Preschool
Two worlds meet in Lango: the SPAC satellite school lies in the middle of a tract of national park that is hugely popular with forest elephants, making the journey to school somewhat perilous! One of our key aims is to spread the message that forest elephants are an endangered species and must be protected, thus requiring a balancing act between our educational mandate to encourage children to attend kindergarten despite such dangers and making sure that the wildlife is protected. The children’s fathers have managed this by clearing a ring around the school and removing all foliage since the elephants prefer to stay in the shelter of the trees and rarely come out into clearings. The biggest problem is that the villagers cannot plant any papayas, mangos, or bananas to nourish their children, because the fruit bushes would prove even more attractive to the elephants, meaning a danger to the population and the elephants themselves.
Spotlight on Club Odzala in Brazzaville
Congolese society places little value on voluntary work by young people that is aimed at sustainability. In everyday reality, subjects such as teamwork, consideration for others, putting yourself in others’ shoes, or working to preserve the natural environment have little traction. As such, encouraging young Congolese city-dwellers to live in an environmentally conscious way and motivating them to counteract ongoing and future damage to the environment requires a whole range of individual measures. Animals are not seen as sensitive beings; nature is not considered to be potentially finite or endangered. People are also neglectful towards themselves and pay little attention to hygiene, a good diet, or safety within the home. Adults may let toddlers chew on old batteries or give infants fried pieces of meat to eat.
How can we put this right?
By appealing to young people who long for change and are willing to work to achieve it, that’s how! Club Odzala in Brazzaville offers young people the opportunity to meet up regularly and to hone their powers of free thought, debating and philosophy in discussions about wildlife and environmental protection.
Pygmies and Bantus: One World, Two Peoples
Pygmies have a special social structure that is based on the immediate and wider family circle. However, the greatest value is placed on the individual, whose welfare and development is the paramount concern of the nuclear family. The exact opposite is true for the Bantus. Here, the individual is at the service of the extended family and the clan. Pygmy men and women have equal rights: women are just as likely to make important decisions or give orders as men. The cooking may be done by men or women, depending on what is needed at a given moment.
Astrid Schimmelpenninck Head of education and outreach