But at school, the kids feel protected.
Marceline Bauma, 8 years old, listens attentively as her teacher, Salomon Mulezi, continues with the science lesson. When he asks the students to name other plants that grow in eastern Congo, they call out their favorite foods — beans, corn, potatoes and the green-leafed manioc.
The teacher stresses the importance of protecting plants. He tells them they should chase goats and chickens away from the plants. “But do this gently,” he says. “Don’t use rocks.”
After reviewing the main points of the lesson, he writes the homework on the board. Marceline carefully copies the question in cursive in her notebook: “How many days does a hen sit on her eggs?”
At 12:10 p.m., Marceline and her classmates go outside, where all the students, more than 1,150 first- through sixth-graders, are gathering in the courtyard for prayers and announcements. The assembly ends with a drum roll. Students leave their school, Notre Dame du Congo (that means “Our Lady of the Congo”), marching to the drumbeat.
A hot lunch
Marceline and her school friends walk home down the middle of the unpaved street. (There are very few cars in the neighborhood.) A stone wall surrounds Marceline’s house as well as the family’s garden and chicken coop.
Marceline is hungry: School started at 6:30 a.m., and there was no time for a snack between classes. Her mother has prepared a big meal of rice and leaves from the manioc plant, cooked outdoors on a charcoal fire. Marceline has several brothers and sisters: Gloria (11
2), Rosine (3), Rita (4), Arthur (6), Fatuma (12) and Olivier (15). They all eat together.
Fatuma and Olivier were adopted from an orphanage that Marceline’s parents run. It is called Orphelinat Amani — “Orphelinat” is French for “orphanage,” and “Amani” is Swahili for “peace.”
Olivier likes to help Marceline with her homework using a chalkboard the family bought at the market. (Marceline’s favorite subject is math.) This afternoon, Olivier is helping her with a French grammar lesson. Marceline writes on the chalkboard and reads aloud as Olivier points to the words with his stick.
The baby falls asleep while Fatuma carries her on her back. Arthur and his friend play with a tire rim, rolling it along the path near the garden. Marceline’s mother and the little girls tend to the fruits and vegetables — green onions, beans, bananas, sugar cane and cabbage. The family has so much cabbage that they will sell it in the market.