Keeping children safe when a volcano erupts

6 September 2019

School children at a primary school running to an evacuation site

Following a devastating volcanic eruption in Goma in 2002, our local disaster experts are helping people to prepare for future eruptions and keep themselves safe. Photo credit: Lydie Waridi Kone / Caritas Goma

Your donations are helping schools prepare for volcanic eruptions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to keep children safe.

“When the volcano erupted, it was totally unexpected,” reflects schoolteacher Birindwa, remembering the devastating volcanic eruption that hit Goma in 2002.

“No one knew which direction to go in. There was no alert from the government, so there was complete disorder.”

The lava flowed from the volcano, towards the city and the primary school where Birindwa works. Reaching speeds of 35 miles per hour, there was little time to act.

“Before this project, we were living with danger without knowing it."

Birindwa, a schoolteacher in Goma

At 12 o’clock on a Thursday, normally the students would have been in school. But it was the holidays. Three classrooms and the school roof were badly damaged. But all the children were safe.

“I thank God the children were not at school,” exclaims Birindwa. “It could have been catastrophic.”

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Helping schools plan for the next eruption

Today, Birindwa and his students have taken part in an evacuation drill, so they can get to safety quickly the next time the volcano erupts. A siren sounds and the older students take the younger children by the hand, guiding them along the two-mile route to a safe evacuation site.

Older school pupils hold younger ones’ hands during a volcanic eruption simulation exercise.

Older pupils hold younger ones’ hands to support them during the volcanic eruption simulation exercise. Photo credit: Lydie Waridi Kone / Caritas Goma

The evacuation drill is part of a CAFOD project in Goma that has supported 60 schools like Birindwa’s, along with a hospital, disability centre and a marketplace thanks to your donations.

Birindwa says: “Before this project, we were living with danger without knowing it. Now we have a school contingency plan. We have agreed evacuation sites. We know how to avoid the children panicking and we make sure vital school items like files, books and teaching materials are saved.

“When we evacuate people in time to a secure site, we can save property and we can save lives.”

Thank you for helping us keep children safe.

This story appears in the summer issue of Side by Side magazine.

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