In Search for School Fees

By Muhango Innocent Amani

Search for School Fees

My name is Mundi. I was born in a small village called Kahungwe, a village located in the Congo’s South Kivu province, specifically in the Uvira territory. 98% of the villagers have only one main activity that helps them generate income. They do field work for their survival. The majority of them work for more than seven hours a day. My family was one of the other village families that could cultivate the ground to generate money to respond to the family’s needs, such as buying food and clothes, getting medical treatments,which require community members to pay a lot of money to afford them, and paying school fees. Overall, villagers were living in extreme poverty due to the shortage of a variety of activities to generate income.

In November, on one of the Mondays, I went to a school that charges school fees in the nearest village. At that time, I was 15 and I had to go to school and come back home after class. I used to go to school by feed every morning. The distance was about five kilometers from our village. Once in class, in my third year at secondary school, a teacher who was in charge of collecting the school fees asked me for the monthly payment for the previous month. I had no money, and I was obliged to go back home. While I was on my way home, it started raining heavily, and was not the first time to have such heavy rain in the village. That rain had a negative impact on the village’s houses and people. While it was raining, five community houses collapsed to the ground. One of them collapsed on two children who were sleeping while their parents were at work in their field. The children passed away and were buried the following day in the community’s cemetery. I was wet but my copybooks were not because I put them in a plastic bag. I was shivering from the cold, as I had no sweater or fleece. The weather was fine in the morning but it changed after I reached school. When I arrived home, I had to go to my room to change the wet clothes. I did not have to pass the stairs as our house was small with three rooms and a living room. It had no cement inside. One of its rooms belonged to our parents, another one to our sisters, and the last to my elder brother, Bulongo who was sixteen and in the fourth year at secondary school. I changed the wet clothes and I went to find my parents to tell them about what happened at school.

I met my father in the living room, where he was reading the novel entitled “Briefing” for a descent into Hell by Doris Lessing and my mother was cooking in the kitchen.She was cooking on a brazier and also using fire woods, as they were the source of energy we were using to warm the house. In other words, charcoal and firewood were the sources of energy our family was using to warm the house and cook. I called her and told them about the situation. They told me that they did not have enough money to pay not only my school fees but my two sisters’ and my elder brother’s school fees, buy food, and respond to other needs. The parents told me to wait for a few days until they find the money. My father said: “The family spent the US$30 that was remaining on the sister’s treatment. We are expecting to get the next amount of money in a week” and my mother mentioned, “Your father should go and meet the school director to make a promise. He should let him know we can pay in one week.” They agreed that the next morning my father should meet the headteacher. The next morning, my father and I went to school where he made a promise and convinced the head teacher to pay the school fees in one week.

To avoid such a situation from happening again, I decided to do two main activities to earn money and decrease some of the parents’ expenses. The activities were doing fieldwork and producing charcoal. In the rainy season, I could grow potatoes and maize and during the dry season, I could go to the nearest forest to cut down trees to produce charcoal. These two activities could be done in the afternoon after classes. I could grow those plants on the family’s farm and harvest them after at least three months. Besides, producing charcoal could take place after cutting trees into small pieces and waiting until they were somehow dry. It was not an easy task because it required much time and energy. Then, I could lay the wood logs on the ground one on another and seal them with a layer of grasses and soil. Also, I could leave a small space eastward uncovered because the east was the source of wind. The place could be closed when the tree could start burning. The uncovered place, a small entrance, was where I had to set fire to burn the trees. Trees were like in a room before being burned. Also, I could leave a small hole behind to allow the smoke to pass. After harvesting and producing charcoal, I could sell the harvests and charcoal to get money. However, the practice of burning charcoal was forbidden by the government. Whoever could be caught could have his tools confiscated by the environmental officers.

Whenever I got the money, I could use it for the benefit of the entire family. The money could be used to pay my school fees and buy clothes and shoes and the remaining amount could be used to pay my siblings’ school fees or help them buy clothes or shoes as well. Thanks to the help of my parents and the practices of burning trees to produce charcoal and doing fieldwork, my siblings and I completed secondary school. However, I did not know how I was negatively affecting the environment before. Over time, I understood that I was causing deforestation and I had to stop causing it. To get rid of it, I decided not to continue cutting down trees for charcoal but continued with agriculture. Agriculture remained my only source of income. However, producing charcoal continues to be one of the sources of income for the majority of villagers. They cut down trees to earn money for their survival because they do not have other alternatives. In addition, I am glad to mention that my father planted 100 trees 2 years after I completed high school. He contributed to reforestation. That did not replace the environmental damage I caused but it increased the number of trees that absorb carbon dioxide.

My village, Kahungwe, is experiencing environmental problems due to heavy rain.some of the problems are soil degradation and houses collapse. In the village’s surrounding forests, trees are not only cut down to produce charcoal but also to get enough space for agriculture, have construction materials, and have firewood. In the future, I think the village will experience a significant shortage of rain and the temperatures will be high if the deforestation practice is not alleviated. Also, community members will experience the shortage of agricultural land because of soil degradation.

26 April, 2023