45179_towardssaferschoolconstruction_0 2015 - Page 62

IN CONTEXT Site selection in post-conflict zones Keywords: conflict, site selection, team building, equal representation, DRC, NGO Careful project and site selection is essential when conflict threatens school communities. On the High Plateau region of South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, communities are recovering from a war that officially ended in 2003 but that has continued in the region to this day. Open conflict is now rare, but the deep animosity has been hard to overcome. Intermarriage, communal work and tribally mixed churchgoings are rare. Cross-tribal interactions are typically confined to the marketplace and schoolhouse. Yet frightened by rumours from their parents, children rarely play with other ethnic groups in the schoolyard, work together in class or sit together during breaks. SECTION III: PLANNING Children in Crisis – an NGO working in the area to construct and renovate schools – slowly and carefully built relationships with local partners who could represent the different tribal, ethnic and religious communities on the High Plateau. Since these identities were often used as a socio-political wedge, equal representation was essential for a successful project and for successful relationships with stakeholders and beneficiaries. During initial meetings with school communities, Children in Crisis explained their physical and political guidelines to site selection. For them sites should: Unlike natural hazards, which can be measured empirically, conflict-related threats need strong political expertise. Locals were rightfully identified as the experts on local politics. At minimum, the community partnership avoided projects that would incite violence. At best, it facilitated projects that bridged social barriers. Today, schools constructed or renovated through Children in Crisis hold tribally mixed teacher trainings, are managed by cross-community parent-teacher associations, and provide a safe and secure learning environment for local children. Along with gaining increased mutual trust, locals helped Children in Crisis choose projects that not only circumnavigated violence, but also increased opportunities for meaningful interaction. Key takeaways • Create teams to represent different community and ethnic groups. This will improve relationships with local communities, stakeholders and beneficiaries. • Choose sites in partnership with all ethnic and religious groups to mitigate tension. • Listen to local partners for political analysis – they are the experts. • Be accessible and centrally located. The school should be for all children in the area and should not belong to a church or a particular group within a community. • Prioritise safety and protection. The school building should not be isolated or located on a thoroughfare. • Avoid hazardous locations. School buildings should not be in the path of prevailing winds, potential landslides, mudslides or other natural hazards. Children in Crisis relied on local expertise to identify and select sites that met these and other communityidentified criteria. An engineer and the project team then analysed the choice to make sure the site was safe and unavoidable risks were mitigated. When needed, the organisation offered facilitation to help decrease tension that may occur during the safer school construction project. 53 After years of conflict and regional poverty, schools in the DRC Plateau region were deteriorating. The original schools, built from bamboo and thatch, were cold and wet in an area that experiences seven months of rainfall per year. They were cramped, and noise from adjacent classrooms disrupted learning. Building safer schools started with a community consultation – an opportunity for women and children to be included in discussions and decisions. Photo: Amy Parker/Children in Crisis.