Volcano adds to pandemic woes for DRC students

The volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has made it even harder for some students to complete their academic year.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, universities and schools in the DRC were among the institutions that were closed for many months, and courses were halted. Then, on 22 May this year, the volcano erupted, resulting in the death of at least 32 people and leaving thousands homeless. Again, universities had to close.

While they have since re-opened, students at the 40 higher education institutions in the area are concerned that there may not be enough time left to finish their course material. For instance, at the public L’Université de Goma (University of Goma) (UNIGOM) the first semester is coming to an end, but students from the majority of faculties have many more modules to complete.

Lysa Sibo, a third-year student in ICT at UNIGOM, is worried that she might not have enough time left to work on her final project as well as continue with her courses.

“The volcanic eruptions have disrupted everything here, especially academic activities. It is very disturbing because we had been in a lockdown for months before we were hit by the volcanic eruptions, and we had to stop courses again,” she said.

At the private L’Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs (ULPGL), translated as the Free University of the Great Lakes Countries, courses resumed on 14 June, but exams had already been scheduled to start on 21 June, thereby putting students under severe pressure.

Chris Chakola, a ULPGL student in applied sciences, left Goma following the eruption and has just arrived back in the city. He has eight papers to sit for as part of the first semester.

“I am really overwhelmed. I spend time revising notes and have no second to waste. We were told to evacuate in the wee hours of the morning, and I was too scared to even take my notes … We are not sure we will finish the programme,” he said.

To further complicate matters, some lecturers are yet to report back after being evacuated, sources told University World News.

DRC’s third wave

Meanwhile, in officially announcing the DRC’s third wave of the pandemic, President Félix Tshisekedi has warned schools and universities “to be very strict, or else they face another closure”, and for the country to remain vigilant.

However, University World News has found that some of the measures against the pandemic were not being respected: many of the entrances at universities do not have sanitation stations and wearing a face mask is not mandatory for students and others frequenting the campuses. Social distancing is also not routinely adhered to.

Thomas Luhaka Losenjola, the DRC’s outgoing minister for higher education, said the government was considering an extension of the academic year up to December this year, instead of being closed by the end of July as was planned previously. This would be to ensure courses and exams can be completed.