From street to school: DRC's children get back on their feet
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Published on 8 December 2010

Okango (centre) assembling wooden boards at Don Bosco.

Copyright: WFP/Djaounsede Pardon

Not so long ago, Okango was one of the troubled and vulnerable children learning carpentry at the Don Bosco Centre in Goma in DRC. Today, he is a teacher at a Roman Catholic institution that offers accommodation, practical skills and a lifeline to 3,700 orphans, demobilized child soldiers and other young victims of poverty and violence.  

By Djaounsede Pardon

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Okango hummed under the roar of machines as he assembled wooden boards for a bookshelf. “This is the practical part of our morning lessons” said the 24-year old carpenter as his classmates -- about a dozen teenage boys -- watched him work.  

Not so long ago, Okango was one of the troubled and vulnerable children enrolled in carpentry and other vocational education classes at the Don Bosco Centre in Goma, the capital of the DRC's eastern North Kivu province. Today he is a teacher at this Roman Catholic institution. It offers accommodation, practical skills and a lifeline to a better future for 3,700 orphans, demobilized child soldiers and other young victims of poverty and violence.  

WFP has supported Don Bosco since 2003, providing students with daily food rations of maize flour, pulses, oil and salt.   “Food is important as it ensures regular attendance of the training sessions”, said the centre's director, Piero Gavioli. “Without food assistance, learning sessions are disrupted because students tend to go out to search for food”.  

Teacher Okango is a former street boy whose parents died during a 1998 attack by one of the many rebel groups operating in eastern DRC. "A Banya-Mulenge soldier shot my mother when she resisted rape," he said. "A few days later, my father died of a heart attack." Orphaned and destitute, Okango was picked up by government soldiers who put him to work as a cook. A year later, they dropped him off in Goma where a relative took him to Don Bosco. Three years of training transformed him into a professional carpenter. In 2008, Okango returned to the centre as an instructor.  

"With carpentry training, I can make tables, chairs, wardrobes and even roof frames," said Okango, who is now married and a father of two children. "This allows me to earn money to cover my family's basic needs."  

More than 5,100 children have received vocational training since Don Bosco was founded in 1989. Many of them now run their own businesses.   As Okango cut and shaped the wood, his students followed his movements closely. "I will do my best to be as skillful as he is," said one 13-year-old boy.