When Belvien moved to London 11 years ago, he was impressed by the organisation and structure of the British education system, and yet, at the same time, it struck him how differently children learn in his native Congo.
From his own experiences, Belvien knew how scarce resources, combined with little training, mean that teachers in the Congo often struggle to deliver high quality education, which can make it difficult for children to thrive in school.
In 2002, Belvien set up a UK-based community organisation called African Future Development (AFD), to deliver Saturday schools and mentoring programmes to British Congolese children living in London.
Belvien secured funding for AFD from Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative (CGI), which is co-funded by the Department for International Development (DFID). The CGI works with African diaspora organisations in the UK, which are run by people of African heritage with strong emotional, cultural and political links to their country.
The new funding has allowed Belvien to expand AFD’s work to Africa. Alongside their established UK projects, AFD now also works to improve training and school facilities for teachers, parents and pupils living in the Congo.
In the Congo, Belvien’s view of education was shaped by the country’s underfunded schools, which are often without buildings and toilets. Crowds of pupils would sit outdoors under the guidance of just one volunteer educator.
He explains: “As teachers, we had no resources and no money. The kids were struggling but it was routine, it was normal to us.”
It wasn’t until he came to England in 2002 and founded AFD that Belvien realised he could make a difference.
In the Congo, children struggle to flourish without properly trained teachers and resources. Lesson plans can be outdated and opportunities for parents and children to voice their concerns are limited.
With help from Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative, co-funded by DFID, AFD has been creating training programmes for parents and teachers.
They have formalised plans for school boards and child participation, to ensure that schools are meeting children’s needs. The programme has become so successful that it now encompasses 33 schools in six districts across the Congo.
Belvien says: “Parents and teachers listen to me because I’m from the Congo and, as a teacher, they are confident that I know the system. The Congolese in the UK have also responded very well.”
With the Common Ground Initiative’s support, AFD are helping more Congolese parents, children and teachers create a robust education system that will improve the quality of schooling for future generations.