Girl from conflict torn Kasai defies odds, a medical doctor in the making

Rachel at her newly refurbished school
Photo: ActionAid
Zimbabwe team
Communications Focal Person

I am the Communications Focal Person for ActionAid Zimbabwe.

Rachel (15) from Ngandajika Territory in Kasai Oriental, Democratic Republic of Congo has not allowed the horrendous experience in her life to dampen her spirits. Rachel is one of the million people displaced by the Kasai conflict that started in 2016 that saw her fleeing her village to Kananga Town, in Kasai central with her father and eight other siblings some 240km away to seek refuge as armed men torched her village. Rachel lost her female cousin during the war. She remains focused despite what she encountered and wants to be a medical doctor when she finishes school.

Rachel, who speaks very good French, the official language in the DRC, is in class 6 primary school. She should be in third level secondary school by now, but had to repeat her classes after missing a year whilst staying in the bush looking for safety as war wrecked her community.  Her sister who is 19, has also been caught up by the same situation as she is only in first level secondary school, when she should have finished her schooling by now. Rachel’s school has been supported by ActionAid with funding from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). It was refurbished with walls and floors renovated, plastered and painted. The school has accommodated about 115 pupils internally displaced people. It has a total of 1064 pupils, although this number is expected to swell as more pupils affected by war come back to school.

Prior to ActionAid support to the school, it had acquired a nick name (Malandji Tubuasa) associated with some blood sucking insects that had infested it. ‘Tubuasa’, means ‘chew’ in the local Tshiluba language. The insects thrive in dirty environments and places with no cement floors.

I am happy to be in school. I experienced some itching under my feet caused by the insect. I scratched my feet all the time and this affected my concentration in class. Some of my friends from school were scratching their feet on the floors, benches and walls due to the insect. I am glad to say that there are new floors in my class and I no longer feel itchy under my feet anymore.

I used to come clean to school and go back dirty. Now I go back clean because our school has been refurbished, Rachel said.

The school director, Musangilayi Kandolo said the school which has a total of eight classrooms, is currently having six classrooms renovated, and new pavements and six toilets are being built as part of ActionAid’s support.

More and more parents who had withdrawn their children due to the dilapidated nature of the school and those affected by the conflict are now bringing their children to the school. Every year, we used to lose 25% of our pupils who dropped out of school due to the run-down school environment.

I am now worried though because we have introduced afternoon classes in addition to the normal morning classes because the number of the pupils at the school has exceeded the school’s capacity. We require more assistance to build more classes and refurbish the other two classes,” said the school director. 

He said the pupils attending afternoon classes have regular disturbances and sometimes classes are cancelled especially when it rains.

About 2800 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kananga Town and Dibelenge Territory in the Kasai Central Province of the DRC affected by the Kasai conflict stand to benefit from various interventions including the support at Rachel’s school, cash-based assistance, trainings on sexual gender based violence and provision of non-food items such as kitchen utensils and bedding materials from ActionAid support with funding from the UNHCR. ActionAid launched the women led protection programme in the Kasai Region in October 2017 targeting over 16,000 IDPs, host families and refugees in the Kasai Oriental and Kasai Central Provinces of DRC. In total ActionAid has supported 26,450 people to date in the two provinces of the Grand Kasai Region.

The conflict in the Kasai area is believed to have occurred following the death of a traditional leader Kamwena Nsapu in Dibaya area and causing the displacement of over one million people like Rachel in this region in 2016.