On a hill above the city, a cluster of decaying buildings - their
windows shattered, their walls pocked with bullet holes - bear
witness to Congo's broken dreams.
This was once a grand university, a gift of the American people
to the newly independent people of this country. An institute for
training teachers, it shone, say those who remember, like a beacon
of promise for a new Africa.
Today, after more than three decades of dictatorship and civil
war, Congolese children are as likely to tote guns as schoolbooks.
This week an international force continues arriving in Bunia, the
northeastern regional capital, to step up efforts to stabilize the
area, torn by ethnic fighting over the past four years.
Still, despite years of suffering and hardship, the yearning for
knowledge survives here. Among the remaining students and teachers
of Bunia's Institut Superieur Pedogogique (ISP), learning both
offers refuge from the chaos around them and feeds their hopes for a
"The Congo," says English student Lazar Unegiu, "will not always
be at war."
With few books and no contact with the outside world, students
scribble the professor's words on precious paper, learning from
curriculums dating to 1981. They scrape together the tuition of $185
a year - almost 20 times the average monthly salary of the teachers
they are training to be.
After a year and a half of studies, Mr. Unegiu, 30, speaks well,
but carefully, with the preciseness of someone who has learned a
language only through books. Like most language students here, he
has never met a native English speaker. For seven hours day, he
reviews his notes, and a few more hours are spent in classes when
they are in session. The rest of the day is spent in his fields,
growing cassava and potatoes to survive.
"Our biggest problem," says Mr. Unegiu, "is the lack of books. Do
you like Shakespeare? I would like to read Shakespeare, in English,
but we only have the French."
ISP Bunia, one of dozen such teacher's colleges around the
country, was built by the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) in 1970 to train a new generation of Congolese
teachers. The country's colonial power, Belgium, had discouraged
education among the locals, leaving this vast country with only a
handful of black college graduates when it won independence in 1960.
ISP and other universities like it were to train a new generation of
Congolese elite. Ministers as well as professors have trained in its
classrooms. "Back then, we lacked for nothing. It was just like a
university in Europe," recalls administrator Mandro Kalongo, who
first came here as a history teacher 27 years ago. …