BETHANY, W.Va. – Hundreds of Ohio Valley schoolchildren and Bethany College students will be getting a first-hand look at the plight of children from the Congo, a poverty-stricken country ravaged by the twin demons of the AIDS pandemic and a lengthy civil war.

Lou Radja, executive director of EduCongo, will be in residence at Bethany College from Feb. 11-15 in conjunction with the College’s Project (RED) Week. Along with making presentations to several classes at the College, Radja will spend the week traveling to various elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in Brooke, Marshall, Hancock and Belmont Counties.

EduCongo is a non-profit organization co-founded by Radja and his brother, Yenga Radja. It is dedicated to enriching the lives of underprivileged children by providing them with a quality and functional education. Sponsored by the College’s Student National Education Association and the Student Activities Council, Bethany’s Project (RED) Week will be used to support EduCongo’s educational efforts.

Although hostilities officially ended in 2003, the Second Congo War and its aftermath had caused the deaths of 5.4 million people — mostly through disease and starvation — by the end of 2007. That made it the deadliest conflict since World War II. As a result of the social displacement and disruption, there is no free public education in the Congo. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that more than 5.2 million school-age Congolese children receive no education whatsoever.

EduCongo sponsors a school, La Decouverte (Discovery), in the rural area of Kisanga in the Congo. Founded by Dr. Pierre Radja, Lou and Yenga’s father, La Decouverte opened its doors in 2002. Along with the basic academic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, the school also provides instruction in various vocational skills that benefit the students and the community. These practical skills include sewing, carpentry, knitting and computer usage. A medical facility was completed in 2006 to provide access to health care for students, parents and community members.

Enrollment at the school has grown from 198 boys and girls for the first academic year in 2002-03 to nearly 2,000 in the current years. EduCongo’s fundraising efforts have kept tuition rates at roughly 33 percent of the average tuition at other schools. EduCongo also provides scholarships for students whose families are unable to cover the lower fee.

Lou Radja’s presentation focuses on his belief that education is the key to unlocking the door to a brighter future for the millions of underprivileged children in his native country. He will kick off Bethany College’s Project (RED) Week activities on Feb. 11 by delivering the keynote address at 7 p.m. in historic Commencement Hall.