It’s 8am and I climb into our Justice Rising truck and for the fifth time in a week we head out of the city to a nearby village where we’re building the next JR school.
The village is about 2 hours away on less than desirable roads. My body aches before the drive even begins, almost in anticipation for what’s coming and a final plea of “dear God, not again!” The road thrashes you on every turn, every bump. Though agonizing, I’ve become quite used to it and sometimes even pull out a book to make the journey feel quicker (a sight that makes some car sick just to see!). But without fail at the end of the journey, no matter how long or quick it feels, the pain in your neck and the queasiness in your stomach stay with you, sometimes for days.
Not only is the road rough by physical standards but by no means is it in the UN’s outlined “safe zone” that they so kindly provide for the expats in the country. The route has been a target for bandits, abductions and minor outbreaks of war. Although I’m not sure if any outbreak of war is ever “minor.”
About an hour into our drive a barricade stops us. A few young boys, maybe in their early 20’s, hold up a string to stop cars from trying to pass. We roll down our window and they make their case, “Yesterday along the road violence erupted and our friend was shot and killed. The funeral is in two days, can you spare some money for his burial?”
Shot and killed? Yesterday? We were on the road yesterday.
At 6pm? We traveled at 5:30pm.
We are forever reminded that the war zone we live in makes exceptions for no one and our safety is a miracle, not to be taken for granted.
We carry on with our journey but not before whispering another prayer under our breath “Oh Jesus, keep us safe.”
Arriving in Kingi, the village cheers when they see us. This week we brought in a tractor to flatten our land and prepare to lay our school’s foundation. It’s on the top of a hill so we had to make the site even and pull out the random tree stumps. Due to the location, we also had to build a road to actually get to the site in the first place. This was VERY exciting for the village! The tractor gave them one of their first “major” roads and now every time we arrive they sing and dance saying “The wazungu has come! The wazungu has come! We’re so happy that the wazungu has come!”
(wazungu meaning --us)
They look at us and see development and hope; two things their war torn village has had very little of.
A population of 40,000 people lives here in mud or grass hut houses that cover three hills on the edge of Virunga National park. In this community about half the population are children and they have four schools to service the entire community. Four! That means that if every school could hold 5,000 then all the children would get the opportunity to go to school. However, most schools hold about 100-200 students and out of these four schools I know that at least one of them doesn’t have a full roof and holds only about 40 children and sends them home when it rains.
We’ve been to the village enough times to have friends that regularly greet us and we know on a first name basis.
Patrick is 20 years old and dropped out of school in the fourth grade. He told us when war came to his village he had to flee to Goma but lost everything in the process. When he and his family arrived in the city they didn’t have money for a new house and they took on the label “displaced”. The UNHCR gave them a tarp and they rounded up sticks from the nearby area to make a frame. In just a few hours their home was built, the size of their old bathroom and a little bit of change. This became the residence for his entire family. They lived there for 10 years.
Last year he returned to his home village feeling like he was grown up and wanted to start building his life back where it started. But he has always regretted not getting a chance to go to school.
We hear story after story of how people missed out on their education.
“War came and I had to run,”
“I moved to an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp,”
“I was taken as a child soldier,”
“My family simply had no money,”
Whatever is the case, they now live with the dream of one day returning to be a student.
We finished surveying the land but unfortunately had issues with some soldiers nearby and weren’t able to move to the next phase of laying the foundations as we had hoped. So we push the work to Monday and tell everyone we’ll be back.
A long trip; very little success. One-step forward, two steps back.
Back in the car and my neck demands that I rub it a little before the journey starts again.
Down the mountain, two more hours, prayers go out for safety and the journey on the road begins again.