The “We are the World School”

A Project of “AISHP” and the “Stiftung Sternenstaub”

Beni is a city of 355 160 inhabitants located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the province of North Kivu. Die Bewohner von Beni lieben ihre Oase „We are the word school“ 2016 by CAID.

Hortence Kavuo Maliro and Valerie Todenhöfer came to know each other during a collaboration within the framework of the German NGO called “Christoffel Mission for the Blind” (CBM) in the Congo. And they developed an intimate friendship. 

Hortence was born in the large Congolese city of Goma, but Beni is her ancestral hometown. Congo is the second largest country in Africa and it is constantly the scene of serious conflicts because of its mineral resources such as gold, cobalt and tin. Hortence works as a customs officer. But in 2014 she founded the barrier-free “We are the World School” with her local organization AISHP, of which she is the director ever since she founded it. (Here is the link to her NGO’s website: https://wearetheworldschool.com/aishp/)

When Valerie met Hortence, who suffered from the Polio-Virus during her childhood, she was shocked to see that Hortence’s prostheses were made of steel and leather, weighing an incredible 15 kg! Valerie invited Hortence to Germany and got her modern and lightweight prostheses. During her stay in Germany Hortence lived at Valerie’s home for three months. One evening Valerie and Hortence talked about life in Beni and the very difficult living conditions there for people with physical disabilities. People with disabilities are discriminated against and often even hidden from the public, because a physical handicap is perceived as a curse in a society where superstition is partly widespread. At that time, Hortence often campaigned on the streets of her hometown Beni in order to raise awareness on this issue among her neighbors and the residents of the city. She also informed the people in Beni about surgical options available for curing physical disabilities. 

One day in the evening, Hortence said to Valerie: “My dream would be to build a school in the countryside in Beni that not only gives the poor children the opportunity to go to school but that is also accessible to the handicapped.” Valerie immediately asked her: “Do you have any ideas what a school like this might look like? Can you come up with a business plan that will enable the school to finance itself? It would also have to be covered by the state’s authorities and recognized as an official school. And maybe you can find out which requirements must be met so that we can get the necessary permits.” 

At first Hortence was just speechless – and then she immediately promised Valerie to do her homework. Contracts were developed, a bookkeeping platform was set up and within a very short time a drafted scheme of the school was on the table. The aim was not to construct a temporary building made of wood and corrugated iron like some UN school buildings, but a school that welcomes its pupils for good. A place that is easily accessible to people with disabilities and that can develop into a small oasis and a meeting point for the residents of Beni. A place that offers people a timeout from their everyday lives.

After the opening of the “We are the World School” in the year 2014, the mayor of Beni, Nyonyi Bwanakawa, told Valerie: “One day this young woman (Hortence) comes to me on her crutches and she tells me that she wants to build a school here on this huge site. She tells me that she has the necessary funds from a German foundation called “Stardust” and she asks me whether I would give her the permission to start the construction of the school. At that time I thought she wouldn’t be able to do that in a 100 years. ”

Hortence’s courage and drive made a deep impression on Nyonyi BwanaKawa: “When I lived in Beni, there were no streets, there were two simple supermarkets and nothing more. And now after only a year and a half later, we stand in front of the most beautiful school in the whole of the region. There are now also first-class supermarkets and even cafés in the vicinity. This is just amazing!”

The “We are the World School” was built on the outskirts of Beni. Most of the students’ parents are farmers who can no longer tend to their fields because the security situation has worsened due to the frequent and violent attacks by countless so-called rebel groups. The school fee is a mere five USD per semester – a meagre sum which many parents cannot afford to pay. Therefore, the school offers them the option to pay the school fees of the “We are the World School” in kind. Either with chicken, eggs and vegetables – which are sold in the market – or as a harvest helper on the school’s cassava fields (manioc), or as a seamstress for bags, clothing and protective masks, which are sewn in the school; there are many options available to the children’s parents.

Parents can also help out at school if they cannot pay the school fees. For example, they take turns with the other employees of the school and go to the nearby river to carry water to the school in large canisters, a strenuous and laborious task. A monthly duty roster is maintained for this purpose. In the absence of running water in the school and the rainwater being insufficient, the school’s drinking water supply is ensured in this manner. Hortence and we at the foundation are currently trying to connect the school to a well with a new water-pipe supplying potable water to the school. However, the costs for a new water supply line are very high and Hortence and we are currently still counting on the promise offered by a potential supporter of our school. The children’s parents would help in the construction work and in return would not have to pay the school fees. Hortence propagates her conviction in her community that it is important that parents of children with disabilities do not have an excuse for not sending their children to school. This close involvement of the families in the school project created not only a center of education but a dynamic and peaceful oasis for everyone. 

“The best thing about this school is the total commitment of the local people to the school,” says Valerie Todenhöfer. “The people in Beni take care of everything: They cut the hedges, clean the gutter, and have planted 900 cypress trees and 400 “calpitius” and fruit trees on and around the school ground so far.” 

Professional gardeners teach the students and work with them to plant even more trees so that in the near future they will have a wonderful source of shade during their breaks from class. The residents of Beni love their oasis, their “We are the World School”. 

A few days ago I asked Hortence if it would be possible for her to do a short interview with a resident of Beni. Just four days later, Hortence called me and sent me the interview I had asked for. The interviewee Ms. Masika Kamaha is the mother of the student Rebecca Kavira Mulyata, a 6 years old student of our school, and she tells us what moves her to engage with the school. I have attached this exclusive interview below. 

The “Stiftung Sternenstaub/Stardust Foundation” is committed to introduce the public to amazing people like Mme Hortence Kavuo Maliro who hails from a small, almost unknown town called Beni in the D.R. of Congo, and who changes people’s lives for good. 

Valerie Todenhöfer, M. Belal El-Mogaddedi, Susi Biglmaier and I, as well as the supporters of the “We are the World School”, who call themselves “Friends for Friends”, namely Lilli Löwe, Julia Balzer and Nina Priester, we would like to express with this brief account our appreciation and our high regard to Hortence for the wonderful work she is undertaking in a corner of her country, the D.R. of Congo, whose people deserve so much better. 

Gerald Günther, Stiftung Sternenstaub/Stardust Foundation

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MRS MASIKA KAMAHA, THE MOTHER OF KAVIRA MULYATA REBECCA A STUDENT IN THE 1rst YEAR AT THE WE ARE THE WORLD SCHOOL (WATWS).

This interview is done by the WATWS with Mrs. MASIKA KAMAHA the mother of the student Rebecca in order to know about the story of the student KAVIRA MULYATA Rebecca, a 6-year-old girl, studying in the 1st form at We Are The World School. 

Rebecca is coming from a very poor family of Beni. She is really suffering from the throes of war since she was born. Rebecca’s family is a war-displaced family; each rebellion pushed them to move from place to place as refugees. They live in misery, they use to leave every things their fields, their home…, and take refuge elsewhere. Rebecca arrived in Beni escaping to the ADF rebels fighting, a rebellion that has been terrorized people since 2013. 

Rebecca is the 3rd of a family of 5 children. She was the beloved of her father; but unfortunately she lost suddenly her father few weeks ago and became an orphan. Mr. Bernard, Rebecca´s father died on December 21, 2020 in his vegetable garden a small plot of land that he cultivated surrounding Kasanga´s River. We have to notice that Masika Kamaha(MK)  Rebecca’s mother is not psychologically stable. In one hand the repetitive fighting rebellions has affected her so much and another hand, the suddenly death of his husband has further complicated herself. 

  • WATWS: Jambo Madame  
  • MK: Jambo Sana
  • WATWS: Please Madame, can you tell us about you and especially about your daughter Rebecca who are studying at the We Are The World School. 
  • MK: My name is MASIKA KAMAHA; I am a mother of 5 children. Rebecca is my third child. She is 6 and she is the only one who is studying among all the children I have.  His father registered her at the We Are The World School because of lot of reasons. 
  • WATWS: Can you tell us about your life?
  • MK: I have never had a good life. All my life is troubles and struggling. My husband name was KAMBALE Bernard, he was from Butembo. He had taken the decision to go to   ERINGETI (on the border of North Kivu province and Ituri province) to do field work. Following the resurgence of the ADF NALU rebellions, he had been forced to move from ERINGETI to Beni Mavivi as refugee person. It was in Mavivi, where we met and we decided to get married. We were both happy to stay to Mavivi until when the ADF NALU rebels came to attack Mavivi and killed children, men and women. It was really a massacre and we could not stay there any more, we escaped from death, so we decided to move from Mavivi to Beni Kasanga where I am living with my children until now. It was not easy to start a new life. My husband as a cultivator tried to look for small job but he couldn´t find any. After months he finally found some people who accepted to borrow him a small plots of land. Then he started cultivating some vegetables. It’s this way that we rebuilt our life. He planted cabbages, salads, cassava leaves and amaranthine. My husband was a strong field worker. I am asking my self why he died and left us alone. We are very poor. I don’t know how my children and I will survive. I don’t really know what I’m going to do to take care of 5-orphaned children. Should Rebecca have to abandon the studying or not? Are we going to move from here to my village? Lot of questions ate ringing into my heard without any answer. Do you know that Rebecca´s father when he was alive did everything to find the $ 5 dollars a month as Rebecca participation fees for attending the We Are The World School.  I am really suffering a lot. To lose my husband a few days of Christmas it’s a big choc. 
  • WATWS: What you say is true your husband was a good and a worker man. We are very sorry for his suddenly death. By then, is any other thing that you personally were doing to try to help your husband?
  • MK: I have never worked in my life except taking care of my children. My husband fed our whole family. The fieldwork was very hard for me.
  • WATWS: Does this little house made my mud belong to you? 
  • MK: No it does not belong to me, unfortunately. 
  • WATWS: Please, try to tell us about Rebecca. 
  • MK:  Rebecca since she was born, she is always sick. My neighbors always advised me to take her to the hospital for checkup in order to find out what she is suffering from; but I have never brought her to the hospital because we do not have any money. I believe that she will miraculously be cured. My daughter Rebecca does not eat often, she has no appetite. She does not like our regular basic food. We usually cook foufou with Sombé (Cassava Leaves), and Rebecca doesn’t like this meal. She loves fish, meat and other vegetables; but these kinds of meals we only eat during Christmas and New Year
  • WATWS: What motivated you to enroll Rebecca in the We Are The World School? 
  • MK: We Are The World School was a preference school of my husband. When he was alive, he used to express this desire to enroll our child in this school. He greatly appreciated the quality of the education offered by the teachers at this school. He also loved how the students of We Are The World School are always clean and well dressed in socks. He also loved how these students recite to their parents everything they had learned in school. So, my husband did not hesitate to register our daughter Rebecca to We Are The World School with the assurance of seeing her one-day become a well educated and a respectable woman into the society. You can’t imagine, every time when Rebecca came from school she kept telling her dad about all she learned to school. My husband was happy and very proud of her. 
  • WATWS: Does Rebecca play with neighbor kids after school? 
  • MK:  Rebecca is totally attracted to us, she is often at home doing some housework waiting for his dad. 
  • WATWS: Madam, you told us that you are displaced people from ADF rebellions; we want to know how if some time you are discussing about both your field and your harvest that you left in Irengeti. What is your feeling? 
  • MK:  Yes, some time we talk about and we feel very nervous when think about how everything that we cultivated on hectares being harvested by rebels, to see all our efforts in vain: it´s really unfair. 
  • WATWS: Did your husband give some thing to the to the owner of the land he cultivating?
  • MK: Not at all, he offered anything in return. Normally when we exploiting a plot of land of someone we must give a hen or a goat as reward; but my husband got the plots of land for free of charge for exploiting. The owner new that we are poor displaced people. 
  • WATWS:  Could you tell us about the circumstances that led to  the death of Mr. Bernard, your husband? 
  • MK: He was very healthy; he woke up on Monday December 21, 2020 without any complaints. He told us that he is going to visit a patient somewhere in the hospital. When he came back from the hospital, he took all his field materials and he went as usual to work to his vegetables garden not far from We Are The World School. After he left, I started to cook the midday meal. After cooking, I rushed to bring him food in the field. When I arrived there, I served the food and we ate together. Everything was fine. When we finished eating, I took my basket of plates and I went home, leaving him working his vegetables field. It was after I got home that I saw people running towards me and informing me that my husband had just fallen into a coma. I stopped everything and I went back to the field. My heart was beating very fast. I was panicked when I say him lying on the floor blooding over his face. He was still lying on the ground alone in his little field. It was a severe bleeding; he was bleeding from his nose and ears.  I rushed to touch him, I shook him, Bernard, Bernard, Bernard, I was terrified, alone with a man bleeding, all my hands full of blood trying to rescue him; unfortunately it was too late, Bernard was already dead.  Then a team came to take its deadly body from the field and brought it to the hospital for the autopsy but any results was serious. (- Madame MK stopped and burst into hot tears during 10 minute in front of us.) It was very sad and full of pity. She was really desperate and no longer had any taste for life. Suddenly she continued with her dramatic story): 
  • MK:  The deadly body of my husband remained in the morgue and the following day we organized her burial. It was really a shock for all of us to lose a beloved one few days to Christmas. I can’t sleep anymore. I am only thinking about how I’m going to survive with 5 children. My head is spinning, it´s eventually going to explode. I was only counting on my husband; no one in the family can take care of us. I put everything into the hands of the lord; he is the one who knows our destiny. In any case, I am overwhelmed. 
  • WATWS: Courage, courage! Did you study?
  •  MK: No, I didn´t study. I did not have any chance. I stopped my studies only in the second class of primary school. I am not even able to write a letter; but my husband studied a little. 
  • WATWS: How can we help you then? What kind of activity can you do to help you support your children who are orphaned today?
  • MK: If I find some help, I can start buying the field products and selling them in our area.
  • WATWS: What can be your final word or a message? 
  • MK: I really need assistance in order to fight against poverty and to be able to support my 5 orphans children, because it is a very big responsibility.

Stiftung Sternenstaub