The 2017-2018 school year was coming to an end and it was becoming evident that Bokele Elementary School could not have its roof redone anytime soon. Whenever the rain threatened to fall, classes had to be interrupted and students were sent home. workers had started to rehabilitate the school buildings only a few months earlier, but had to stop suddenly because they ran out of money, explains Victorine Bonyenga, director of the school. How could she and her staff alone and without any financial means offer students decent conditions to study?
Bokele School is located in the corridor between the two blocks of the Salonga National Park about twenty kilometers from Monkoto. Determined to see the school repaired, the leader of the Local Development Committee of Bokele and the notable Bolenge group leader decided to ask Salonga National Park’s management for help.
Responding positively to this urgent demand, the Park Management agreed to take over the work as part of the park’s community conservation and local development strategy.
The Monkoto corridor area is notoriously landlocked and difficult to access. When possible the people here bring their agricultural products to more important markets in Mbandaka or Boende. Both markets are difficult to access. Going down the Luilaka River allows to reach the big city of Mbandaka after 4 to 5 days of sailing. to arrive in Boende requires to travel in extremely difficult conditions on poor roads. The only hospital in the corridor located in the town of Monkoto provides basic care for thousands of inhabitants of this administrative area. In poorly equipped schools, teachers pass on knowledge to their students who often have to sit on coarse logs or even on the floor.
The the context of widespread poverty around Salonga National Park, the park is an enticing temptation to quickly search for resources for daily subsistence or for more substantial income. Providing communities with alternative income-generating activities that also discourages poaching is therefore an essential key to successful conservation efforts. The various community interventions implemented by the park’s management for the population are thus a means of gaining their support for conservation by turning them into partners. It is also a signal of management’s willingness to share the benefits of park conservation with these communities.
After the school’s call for help, the infrastructure team of the Salonga National Park quickly got down to work. Before the beginning of September 2018, the roof was completed. Mrs. Bonyenga recalls with relief how the constant threat of stopping classes because if rain is now a thing of the past. Students can now also study shaded from the fiery sun of the region. The walls, doors, windows and floors were also redone and classrooms are now equipped with new desks for students. The transformation is complete and those who knew the school from before do not believe their eyes!
The buildings houses two institutions: Bokele Primary School, which operates in the morning, and the Luile Institute, a secondary school that operates in the afternoon. 200 students were enrolled in elementary school for the 2018-2019 school year and just under 100 in secondary school. Mr. Dauda Yambo Ekoli is the prefect or headmaster of the Luile Institute. Dauda Yambo is convinced that the park contributes to the socio-economic development of the region. When asked if students are interested in conservation, he shares some old memories: “In the 1970s, elephants made their appearance to the edge of houses. They have been decimated by poaching and we do not see them anymore. We have a duty to teach children about the value of natural heritage and to bring to life in them notions of conservation. This renovation with support of the park’s management is a premise for a better future for the communities and of the park as well”.
For now, Dauda Yambo and Victorine Bonyenga are very happy to see the refurbished buildings. “Thanks to the park, we have one of the most beautiful schools in the Monkoto area and we are very grateful,” says Dauda Yambo.