I have the privilege of working on behalf of Congo Initiative, and have done so for more than 3 years. My role has been to assist in coordinating communication and development efforts in the United States--raising awareness and resources, as well as human resources and other administrative responsibilities. I have also had the opportunity to visit Beni last year and to spend some time with our General Assembly (Congolese Board of Directors) as well as our incredible leadership team.
What I find so compelling about Congo Initiative is its commitment to genuine, international partnership. "Partnership" is a term that is used quite loosely in many different settings, but Congo Initiative is really trying to live out what it means for a North American entity and an African organization to work side-by-side, not above or below the other, but truly in mutual collaboration and dialog. It's much harder than it sounds, and messier than we might like to admit. From my vantage point, I get to see the inner workings of it all, and I can attest to the fact that it can (and does!) really work, IF an organization and its people have the patience, grace, humility and shared vision to see it through for the long haul. It’s far too easy for North Americans, despite every good intention, to assume “control” of an international organization, and far too few organizations are really doing the hard work of collaboration that is reciprocal between offices in the Global North and those in the Global South. Congo Initiative, however, is doing this, and doing it well, albeit imperfectly.
Others have articulated better than I how life-changing and transformational CI’s education, leadership development and community initiatives are. I echo all that has been written in other reviews along these lines. For sure CI has a long way to go—other than UCBC (Christian Bilingual University of Congo), none of the other Community Centers have been officially launched, although some are active periodically in hosting workshops and seminars of various kinds. We still have a lot of construction on campus that needs to be completed. We have a brand new radio station, but we need permanent staff to manage it, and we need many more permanent faculty for the university, not to mention staff to lead and organize each of the Community Centers. Despite all of this, however, I am amazed at the courage and resiliency of our Congolese leadership to press on. Our students are filled with real hope that they can actually be part of bringing change to a broken country. Even a brief visit to the campus in Beni leaves one with the palpable feeling that the staff and students truly believe in their motto: “Being transformed to transform.” More than just a catchphrase, these remarkable women and men are living out this motto on a daily basis through their hope, perseverance and faith, even in the midst of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
I strongly encourage you to support this initiative. It is a unique example of an interational partnership forged to bring about holistic transformation in a country the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi river. A vast land with enormous potential to shape the future of an entire continent. Can you aim any higher than that?
I came to Beni to visit Congo Initiative's program at UCBC with the Service Learning Coordinator, Chelsie Frank. I work in Kampala, Uganda with a nonprofit organization called Cornerstone Development, which works in 'youth leadership development' in East Africa. One of our programs, African Youth Leadership Forum (AYLF) has included students from UCBC who have started their own branch of AYLF on campus.
While visiting UCBC, I immediately recognized the shared values of our organizations and was very impressed with the commitment to invest in young leaders with high potential and high character. The students and staff at UCBC are clearly dedicated to their country and community, with a vision to encourage leaders with integrity, which I believe is a top priority in moving any country forward.
I was particularly impressed with the staff's commitment to continually evaluate and improve their programs. During my visit, I saw their brand new radio station that will be used to educate the community about UCBC's programs, about how the community can be involved in spreading their vision and values, and to give students valuable experience in working with a radio program.
I'm certain that this program will contribute greatly to the positive development of each student and the region as a whole and I look forward to further partnering with Congo Initiative.