The most important but also the hardest thing I’ve done while living in Congo was volunteering for a special school, the École Spéciale de Brazzaville. Every week a group of us would go to the school to sit down with small groups of kids and work through texts to help the kids improve their reading skills. I did it for one year, every Thursday, and while I hoped it would get easier with time, each time it was just as difficult as the last, yet each week I went back.
Why? Because this school aims to help disadvantaged kids towards a better future, but does so in very difficult circumstances, and therefore needs all the help they can get. The school provides basic education for just under 2000 kids and young adults, including mentally or physically challenged ones. Kids who couldn’t go to school when they should have because they had to work to support their family, or because regular school wouldn’t accept them because of their disability. Most kids are therefore much older than they normally would be for the class they are in which also means that they are way behind academically.
The school is almost fully dependent on donations in order to run and it operates in old overcrowded buildings. The kids are taught reading, writing and mathematics, as well as a choice of vocational subjects such as basketry, carpentry, cooking, electricity, gardening, hair dressing, sewing or welding, all with very limited staff and resources. A recent development is the use of collection boxes in shops, bars, restaurants, hotels etc. to enable private individuals to make small donations towards the running costs of the school – and I’m glad to learn that in the month of January 2019 the total collected in the 26 collection boxes placed around the city was enough to pay the salary of three teachers (see school’s Facebook page)! These boxes have really raised the profile of the school and what it does and I hope the trend continues so that more funds can be raised towards the running of the school. Because I don’t even want to consider what the fate of these kids would be if it weren’t for this school!
Oh, maybe you’re asking why I felt it was difficult to do this job – well, for me it was quite a culture shock to see the roughness between the kids, the pushing, the slapping, the taunting, in particular when aimed at those with disabilities. I get it that it’s partly cultural and partly to do with the background these kids come from, but that didn’t make it any easier and I wish I had been able to do more about it. But I persevered with going every week, focusing on the reading which was what we were there for, trying to just show by example how to treat other people kindly and with respect. Hopefully it made a difference.
I’ve never taken a photo at École Spéciale de Brazzaville so have borrowed the ones I’m posting here from the school’s own Facebook page and website. All credits for the photos on this page belong to the school, not me.