Cherin Yoon | CONF 340 | October 14, 2019
Education provides children with opportunities to escape poverty and motivations for building a promising future. However, conflict and fragility act as a huge obstacle to accessing and maintaining quality education.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), nearly 7 million children aged 5 to 17 are out of school, and about half of girls aged 5 to 17 do not go to school. As one of the poorest countries in the world, the DRC has not been able to promote quality education due to numerous vulnerabilities, including the economic recession caused by decreased raw material costs, the political fragility resulting from the upsurge of social crises, natural disasters, and unstable school infrastructure.
However, education is critical to establishing peaceful, united societies. It can be greatly influential when it is equitably available, of good quality, conflict-sensitive, and relevant. It lays the groundwork for development of various aspects of the country, including economy, governance, equality, identity and culture, which can ultimately help address the variables that incite conflict.
Therefore, in the case of the DRC, UNICEF has been working to protect the children’s rights and help children fulfill their potential by connecting education and peace-building. UNICEF aims to create safe and secure learning environments and provide the youth with development opportunities, which can critically contribute to peace in the region.
To be specific, UNICEF initiated the Learning for Peace program to enhance the ability of the citizens in the DRC to live inclusively and harmoniously. The program is a partnership between UNICEF, the Government of the Netherlands, the national governments of 14 participating countries and other key advocates. As illustrated in the video below, the initiative aims to strengthen the role of education in building peace in areas at risk or affected by conflict.
The program encourages communities to incorporate peace-building activities into schools. By using school as a place to target various members of the community, it helps build bridges between conflicting parties. Teachers lead activities that promote social cohesion within the school. Children have become main actors in peace by being a part of peace committees and planning activities such as sporting events, talks and plays to raise awareness in their communities. Teenagers also had the chance to express themselves and organize activities in adolescent clubs. As a meeting point between discordant groups, schools have held community events and brought parents who used to be unwilling to get along with each other.
Two important stakeholders in this project are the government of the DRC and UNICEF. In post-conflict situations where education is very important, the government has been able to re-open schools in the villages with the support of UNICEF. The government’s support for awareness campaign to convince parents to send their children back to school shows how schools can offer a great opportunity to learn to live together again and return to peace. To successfully achieve the goals of the program, it is essential for UNICEF to actively invest in long-term, sustainable development of the program in the DRC, a conflict-affected nation that is in desperate need of a great amount of humanitarian assistance following various local crises.