Making a Start
Updated: Apr 8, 2019
Distribution of netbooks to school teachers in South Kivu, Congo.
Shortly after arriving in Kinshasa, DR Congo for the first annual Computers for Congo trip, we commenced our plans to open a computer training centre. One the primary purposes of this trip was for me to observe and document the work that our impact partner - Mission in Healthcare and Development (MHCD), a local Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) - was doing with the computers we had sent over. This involved opening some new centres that would be utilising our computers for the first time. Because communication is so difficult between Australia and people on the ground in the DRC, I didn't have any pre-conceived ideas about operations, locations or equipment. I was in the capital Kinshasa for less than a week as we only had one centre that would operate here, and the majority of our time and effort would be spent on the other side of the country. That being said, here is another story from a journal entry on day 2 of the trip that I'll share over the next couple of weeks…
" I felt pretty horrible after sleeping on the floor all night, but at the same time pumped to be experiencing something so hardcore! I hadn't got much sleep because it had been steaming hot all night, and the humidity was so thick it made Cairns feel like a cool breeze in comparison. I had decided to sleep on the tiled floor to try and stay a little cooler, as even the mattress generated too much heat. I was able to have a shower for the first time in 3 days, which was definitely a welcome comfort that I was extremely grateful for. The bathroom setup took some getting used to; there were 2 buckets, one with room-temperature water and one filled with boiling water. You poured cool water into the boiling water until it was at a desirable temperature. This bucket was then placed next to you in the bathtub, with a small ladle or cup provided for “pouring”. I also used this opportunity to wash my clothes because my suitcase had not arrived (and didn't for another 5 days), so I was living in the clothes I'd worn on the trip over and some spares from my backpack!
A common method of transporting goods in rural DRC - Tumpline.
Breakfast was then served, which consisted of bread, avocado, cooked beans, assorted spreads, peanuts and coffee. Afterwards, the men who ran the computer training centre in Kinshasa came over to talk with me. I had been told by my DRC host, Luc Mulimbalimba, who is a politician, doctor and entrepreneur, and who runs MHCD, that I would be opening one centre in Kinshasa before flying to a city in the east called Goma. But I had no idea how the centres operated or who operated them. However, I was about to get some answers! Three men came in and sat down: Blashar, Patrick and Gazu. We quickly established that they didn't speak any English - not enough for a conversation with me anyway. So Dr Luc’s wife Delice translated for us. We then gave them six laptops, to add to the two they had already obtained themselves, which the men would take back to the centre with them. I found out that they were part of a local Christian education organisation which operated in this side of the country, mostly in Kinshasa. They ran various aid and development programs and had met Dr. Luc not long ago, who talked to them about getting computers from Australia. After Dr. Luc vetted their program and agreed to provide their organisation with the computers, they decided they would be able to open a training centre based on recommendations by Dr. Luc about how to run the facility.
The men had been waiting for me to arrive before opening the centre and commencing training, and said there were two teachers ready to go, who had studied some Information Technology at university. Delice had explained to me that in DRC, the education system is similar to Australia’s, with children attending kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, and then university, if possible. However, despite this and the fact that primary education is free nation-wide, many kids cannot read and write until finishing primary school. Because of the sustained war over the past 15-20 years, education has been one of the areas hit the hardest. In 2002, only 29% of primary-graduation-aged children had completed primary school and we are now seeing the impact of that, 16 years later. In 2014, that figure increased to 70%, nevertheless there are still currently 3.5 million primary-aged children out of school (26% of all primary-aged children) [source].
Public transport (like this van) is usually overflowing.
The secondary school rates are even worse than that, where average nation-wide attendance is about 40% [source - go here if you want to see some scary stats!]. The most frustrating part is that the DRC has one of world's lowest percentage of GDP spent on education, which is making the situation worse. As a result, most of the education development comes from international humanitarian NGOs such as Caritas, Educate A Child (EAC) and International Rescue Committee (IRC). This means that an entire generation has been left with little to no formal education and that is playing out its impact now. The DRC is currently ranked 176th out of 188 nations on the UN's Human Development Index. However, the population of DRC is 80 million, and the other 12 nations below it on the list have a combined total of 130 million, so DRC's poverty affects a much higher number of people. For those of you wondering........Australia is 2nd behind Norway. We've got it far better than we know!
The men said that students who come to the computer training centres were required to have completed secondary school. We then discussed what kind of content I would share, who it would go to and in what way it would be delivered. I found out that one of the teachers knew English and was told that he could translate. I also learnt that the students who attended would have some extremely basic knowledge of operating the computer (Start Menu, mouse clicking, etc.) - nothing else. So I showed them the material I had prepared, which I had translated to French prior to leaving Australia. Because all my printouts were in my still-missing suitcase, I had to show them from my laptop, which had no charger because it too was in the suitcase! Thankfully, it had enough power to start up, and I showed them my teaching content, which they were delighted with (I was proud of my translation efforts when I discovered they could read it!), so I confirmed that I would work through this with the two teachers tomorrow. Then, if there was any time left over, I would also speak to the students who attended. The three guys were so pleased about the things I could show and teach that they said they would speak to their contacts at the Kinshasa University about holding a seminar I could teach when I came back to the country again. We agreed that if this training centre was successful, we could replicate the model and establish more centres in other locations. We took some photos, said 'au revoir' and they went on their way."
At least the "Safety Rails" have been put in place on this national highway (main route from Tanzania to Rwanda)
Next week, I'll share my experience going to that new computer training centre for the official opening.
This experience was recorded on the 1st of December whilst on the annual Computers for Congo trip and helps to give an idea of the current climate of culture and lifestyle in DRC. More articles like this will be released each week on the Computers for Congo website found at: www.computersforcongo.com.
Additional links on current Congolese education rates and statistics:
Written by Tom Cecil - Founder of Computers for Congo.