Not long ago, the Shaba primary school in the suburbs of Lubumbashi, the capital of the province of Katanga (southeast DR Congo), was regarded as nothing more than a school for destitute children.
Without a door or benches, this school, with barely 30 students, was operating out of an old colonial-era store.
“Only children from impoverished families were registered at our school,” noted Placide Yombo, the school’s principal. “And whenever it rained, everyone stayed home.”
The picture changed after the school got a facelift in early 2010. The renovated building now boasts six new classrooms equipped with benches and well-mounted chalkboards, much to the delight of the principal, who now works in a brand new office.
“These new buildings have allowed us to gain the confidence of the parents and our numbers have increased,” Yombo said.
Enrollment at the school has skyrocketed from 30 to 250 students. The reasons for this influx are evident: in addition to the new classrooms and administrative offices, the school is also equipped with clean restrooms.
Projects with a real social impact
The new infrastructure was built by the Democratic Republic of Congo Social Fund (FSRDC), the executing agency for the Emergency Social Action Project or PASU, according to its French acronym.
Financed by the World Bank at a cost of US$60mn, PASU was completed in 2010, five years after its launch date. It was designed to facilitate access by the poor to social services and improve management of resources earmarked for development in the grassroots communities.
In addition to infrastructure, PASU had three other components covering capacity building, studies and coordination, and management and outreach.
In Katanga, PASU financed 34 projects at a cost of US$2.8mn. So far, 33 have already been completed, and only one remains under implementation. These projects encompass sectors such as health, education, the environment, energy, drinking water, agricultural markets and storage, and rural transport. Implementation of these projects requires the participation of the beneficiary communities.
“The needs must emanate from the people so that they get fully involved,” said Eugène Kasato, head of the FSRDC office in Katanga. “Otherwise, they will not take care of the project, which may jeopardise its future.”
According to Kasato, the FSRDC asks each community that submits a project to contribute, in cash or in kind, at least 10 per cent of its overall cost. Grassroots communities, which are also poor, often make in-kind contributions to projects, providing sand, stone, bricks, and the like, for the construction of infrastructure. “This is how they assume ownership of a project,” Kasato said.
Involving local communities
Various PASU projects in Lubumbashi’s communes have benefited from the involvement of local communities. Such is the case with the health care referral centre in the commune of Kenya, which was rehabilitated with the assistance of the beneficiary population. Care is provided to patients at this centre prior to their transfer to the city’s general hospital.
Elsewhere in the commune of Rwashi, a new market is the pride and joy of the female vendors. In the past, they would spread out their wares on the ground and would have to halt activities whenever it rained.
“I now sell under a shed, sheltered from the sun and bad weather,” a smoked fish vendor gleefully noted.
Likewise in the commune of Katuba, homemakers are thankful for easier access to drinking water near their homes at the Katuba II primary school. “Gone are the long lines of people waiting to fill up just one container with water,” joyfully declared a woman who used to waste a lot of time travelling far distances from her home to collect this precious liquid.
The Katuba II primary school was also rehabilitated thanks to funding from PASU. The building now houses eight equally well-equipped classrooms, sanitary facilities, and a water pipe. Students can not only quench their thirst, but also water the school’s lawn and keep the classrooms clean.
Satisfying needs, addressing challenges
PASU financing enabled the Social Fund to launch operations in the country’s 11 provinces, in an effort to effectively address the myriad needs expressed by the Congolese people. Challenges also exist, chief of which is the vast expanse of a continent-sized country that stretches over two million square kilometres.
There are also financial challenges, which prompted the World Bank to extend additional financing to the tune of US$35mn since October 2010.
To date the initial phase of PASU has enabled the Social Fund to execute 601 small-scale infrastructure projects across the entire country. Of these, 364 projects are in the education sector, 80 in the health sector, 72 for water and sanitation, 44 in the agricultural warehouse and storage sector, 23 for the rural transport sector, 11 for the energy sector, and one in the micro-irrigation sector.
The capacity of 855 local entities (local executing agencies, consultancy firms, and project units) was strengthened, bringing the total to 1,938 participants, of which 339 were women. The educational component covered the cost of 7,615 scholarships and distributed 30,300 reading books to 305 primary and secondary schools.
“Now, more so than in the past, PASU is giving a human face to the World Bank, because it is impacting the everyday lives of the people by demonstrating care for others,” said Ruphin Bo-Elongo, the Social Fund’s General Coordinator. “Working together with grassroots communities using a participatory and responsibility-oriented approach to implement development projects is a practical and effective way to participate in the country’s reconstruction efforts as well as its human development.”