By Kate Shaw Communications Consultant, Kasai Response
The little boy in the worn button-down decorated with cartoon characters seems small for his age, and incredibly serious. Unlike any other child I’ve met in the Kasais, he speaks to me in perfect French.
Originally from Tshikapa, in Kasai Province to the southeast, like many of his classmates, Pascal and his family fled at the beginning of 2017, when ethnic conflict broke out in violence.
“I was studying last year, but when ‘the movement’ began, Papa said that I should leave school, otherwise they’d kill me.”
“Papa is dead, because he worked for the DGM (a government bureau similar to the Home Office),” Pascal tells me solemnly. “He was killed by the militia. They cut his head off with a knife.”
“I saw it when we went to get his body. They’d cut off his hands too.”
Pascal and his family buried what was left of his father’s body and then fled Tshikapa on foot, walking 300km until they arrived at his uncle’s house in Kazumba, a district west of Kananga in Kasai Centrale province. His mum left his two older sisters at another uncle’s house in Kananga where they could continue their secondary education, and continued on to her own family in Southeastern Congo.
“She abandoned us,” Pascal said. “Now I’m living with my father’s younger brother and his six children.”
“My mum said I should stay here and when she comes back, she will come to get me. But I’ve been here a long time.”
Unfortunately, as conflict spread and mutated across all five provinces of the Grand Kasais in the centre of the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, numerous militia and counter militias sprung up. It began as an anti-government conflict around a traditional chieftaincy in 2015, 400km from Pascal’s home. As the violence grew, 1.6 million people were displaced as ethnic tensions flared and the military and militia battled for supremacy across the Kasais.
In March, violence reached Pascal again in Kazumba, just a few months after his family’s flight following his father’s death.
“When we came here, it started again,” Pascal explained, slowly. “We went to the forest. My aunt’s baby boy died there. There were lots of deaths in the forest.”
“We ate palm nuts and cassava in the forest. When we found things to eat, we ate. When we didn’t, we didn’t eat. I spent two months there.”
Since a government peace agreement with the original militia in April, and the widespread deployment of UN Peacekeepers and humanitarian assistance, an uneasy peace has begun to settle on the Kasais since August. Nine months after he fled his home, Pascal is back in school, and preparing to sit his Year 6 exams to move on to secondary school next year. However, he desperately misses his older sisters, and longs for his life before – safe, cared for and well fed, living with his family.
“I’m not happy because I’m not with my sisters,” Pascal bursts out. “I eat, but not well…when I go out to play with my ball, when I come home again they don’t give me anything to eat. When my uncle is travelling, my Aunt starts being mean to me.”
“Even school supplies, I don’t have any. In class I ask my classmates for pieces of paper.”
“My cousins are in school. They have a notebook.”
As part of its Kasais Response, World Vision is working with the local education minister, UNICEF, and other education programs on a back to school campaign to encourage children to re-enroll in school after the disruption of the last year. World Vision is currently distributing back to school bags to 15,124 children in Kazumba Nord and Kazumba Centre. Bags include notebooks, pens, pencils, and a ruler.