During her official visit to the Central African Republic, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, met with Her Excellency Ms. Catherine Samba-Panza, Interim President of the Central African Republic, to discuss the fundamental role of education and culture in reconstruction and national reconciliation.
Catherine Samba-Panza highlighted the many challenges that exist to ensure the restoration and improvement of access to quality education for the tens of thousands of children and young people of the Central African Republic who have seen their studies interrupted by the conflict.
"Education is a national priority. It contributes to normality and stabilization while the country is still fragile. It diverts youth from forms of abuse, exploitation and manipulation and it lays the foundation for the participation of responsible citizens. We need to give young people a taste of life and involve them in the change,” she said.
"You represent hope and peace in the Central African Republic," said the Director-General, ensuring the Interim President of UNESCO’s support, in the short and longer term, for the reconstruction of the education system. "We must act together to ensure that the education crisis in Central Africa is not forgotten by the international community," she added, highlighting the importance of increased investment in particular for secondary, technical and professional education, as well as the quality of education that remain largely neglected.
The safeguarding of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, and its vital role as a force for reconciliation, was also discussed. Recalling the acts of vandalism at the National Museum in Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza said that "everything was lost in terms of culture. Our relationship with the past is to be rebuilt," requesting the support of UNESCO for the establishment of national cultural institutions for knowledge and memory.
"Culture and heritage must find their place within the Central African society and especially among young people -- it is essential to provide guidance and develop living together, today and in future," concluded Ms Bokova.