Elozi Lomponda has created “Des livres sur les pirogues” as a non-profit association working in both the North and the South. In the South, it fights against rural depopulation by promoting the right to education of children living along the Congo River, and in the North, it promotes the “living together” concept and an efficient North-South dialogue.
Elozi Lomponda and her team
The association "Des Livres sur les Pirogues"
Because it is a touching project aimed at combating the rural-exodus by strengthening the safety of young Congolese children living along rivers, as well as improving the conditions for their learning.
A pirogue accident
At first, I created the association “Des Livres sur les Pirogues” because I always thought it was time for me to do something important in my life. Being originally from Africa and more particularly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, it has always been important to me, especially during my studies, to find a way to help the African youth which is in desperate need of help and support.
I believe that youth is indeed something important: it is the future, the tomorrow of the continent. When I started working, I heard about a boat wreck in the heart of a village called Mankanza in northern DRC. It was a very small boat, a pirogue carrying 13 children, of whom 5 perished. It really affected me because among these children, two were part of my own family. Note that between 2011 and 2015, more than 1000 children lost their lives on the way to school. They were so young! The oldest was 9 years old. It was really moving and so disturbing. When we talked about this, the only question that came to my mind at the time was: “How is it possible that children die on their way to school?”
In the aftermath of this tragic event, I wanted to take action and went to the scene of the terrible accident. I already had the opportunity to talk to people about my intention to go there, and maybe to launch a project for young people and some motivated friends accompanied me.
Paddle at own risk
When we arrived on the spot, we realized that this fishermen's village was actually located in the heart of the Congo River. It is entirely bordered by the river and consists of a group of some seventy islands. It is therefore an archipelago that is difficult to access. After a flight to Kinshasa, followed by a domestic flight, there is still about 8 hours of boat before arriving on site, which discourages many people.
The closer we got to the village, the more we met children dressed in blue and white uniforms, carrying small school bags, on precarious pirogues, and what’s more, without adults. It was certainly their absence that most disturbed us. It was through discussions with the children and their parents afterwards that we learned that they paddle an average of 45 minutes to school because the archipelago only has a small number of schools in proportion to the number of residents and islands. They must therefore paddle to the nearest school at the risk of their lives, as parents cannot afford to accompany them. This is really problematic for two reasons:
First, parents, frightened by the danger, decide not to send their children to school anymore. Barely 35% of school-aged children attend school in Equateur Province, where Mankanza is located. The conditions under which children travel to school are deplorable: without breakfast, paddling in the morning, often more than 6 of them in a poor quality pirogue. They attend classes in difficult conditions and return from school at times when the sun is at its zenith and the temperature is at its highest.
After a survey on the spot, we realized that 70 % of the children do not know how to swim. The Congo River is very dangerous even for a good swimmer, these children have very little chance of surviving in the event of an accident. We were really shocked by the fact that from Monday to Saturday, somewhere in this world, children risk their lives to go to school.
Secondly, the rural exodus caused by this parental fear. Parents are frightened and choose not to send their children to school in this region, preferring to send them to larger villages or cities. This phenomenon paralyses urban centers and leads to a rural exodus, which becomes problematic for the region, which lacks young people and consequently a long-term future.
It was at that point that we thought it was time to act. We must allow these children and young people to remain in their native villages where they could develop and grow without removing them from their roots. This is how the region will be able to survive, modernize and prosper.
It was important for us to use the pirogue because, in the African tradition, it reflects a sharing, a transfer of knowledge from one generation to another.
Schools on stilts
Our aim is above all to fight against the rural exodus by promoting the right to education, and to enable these children to access education in safety and dignity.
Our first ambition is to create local schools, on stilts, allowing islands without schools to acquire one, and to survive the semi-annual river floods. This requires significant resources that we do not yet dispose of. We have therefore set up a partnership for a project located 66 km from Kinshasa, in Mosolo where there is a destitute school of 225 students, which has the particularity of welcoming children from other riverbanks. We have installed a water well to improve sanitary conditions and toilet construction is currently underway.
We are also working on the construction of a school boat with 50 seats, just like school buses in Europe or elsewhere. It will allow children to travel safely to school, accompanied by several adults. Wearing lifejackets will be mandatory. For this action we had the chance to be sponsored by a big Belgian youtuber, “Math se fait des films”, who took charge of the construction costs of our first school boat. Thanks to his generosity we will start the construction of the school boat at the end of October 2018.
Finally, we are leading a project in the DRC to raise awareness of the dangers of water and the river. In African culture, swimming, rescue and first aid measures are not taught. In May 2018, we carried out our first awareness campaign of the dangers of water, allowing us to warn 413 children and 130 teachers about the need for safety for these “children of the water”.
We do neither receive any public assistance at the moment, nor any subsidies. At the beginning, we launched the project with our own funds until today. We are now currently supported by more and more people, resulting in an increase in donations. The sponsorship of the Belgian youtuber was a real added value especially in terms of visibility.
Our projects were relatively abstract in the beginning, and are becoming a reality as the days go by thanks to the donations we receive. We organize events (an exhibition is currently in preparation), charity dinners. We are therefore today at the head of an association that lives thanks to the strength of its members, convinced by the project and with the ambition to enable riverside children in sub-Saharan Africa to flourish and reach their full potential on the spot where they were born. Our action is clearly a long term action.