NGO helps rebuild schools in three southern regions

Schools throughout the regions of Bouenza, Lekoumou and Niari in southwestern Republic of Congo are to benefit from a rehabilitation project led by a US NGO, the International Partnership for Human Development (IPHD), at a total value of 41.2 million francs CFA (US $74,277).

For the initiative, which began at the end of July, the NGO provided 37.5 million francs ($67,711), which was granted by the US Department of Agriculture, while local residents contributed the rest, IPHD country director Robert Schmidt told IRIN on Thursday.

The targeted schools are in the Bouenza towns of Saint-Kisito, Solidarite and Moussa Eta; in the Lekoumou town of Mabouana; and the Niari towns of Gaia and Dolisie. The project is due to be completed in two months, and will be implemented by local NGOs through a "food for work" programme.

In addition to repairing damaged roofs, walls, plumbing and furniture, Schmidt said the project should help to encourage children return to school.

According to a 1999 report by the UN Children's Fund and the African Student Parents' Association, school enrolment rate in the Congo - one of the few African countries where it used to be 100 percent - had dropped to 78.9 percent in 1998. Conflict and its aftermath also increased the illiteracy rate, to 24.9 percent. Literacy for men was estimated at 83 percent, while for women the rate was 67 percent. The average school dropout rate was 7 percent, the study said.

"Congo, which was once among countries with a solid school system, has seen the quality of its education system fall into a serious state of dilapidation," Schmidt said.

IPHD, created in the United States in 1983, has been working in the Congo for three years in infrastructure rehabilitation, food distribution, agriculture and micro-credit.