July 2, 2012
I visited Beni for one month (June 2012) and taught two courses at UCBC, in the Faculty of Theology. I was richly blessed by the experience, and hope to continue working with Congo Initiative. First of all, as others have pointed out in their reviews, this is an organization with a bold vision and a radical dependence on God. Secondly, it represents a true partnership of individuals and groups from the global south and north, with Congolese staff at the forefront. This was the impression I had when I first heard of Congo Initiative, and this impression was confirmed by my actual visit. As an African myself (though not Congolese), I was inspired to see how CI is finding a new way, challenging standard NGO models, and demonstrating innovative servant leadership by Africans. Because of UCBC's aim to transform the Congolese educational system, I was encouraged and given tools to help me implement creative approaches to teaching that enabled students to be empowered agents in their own education. The staff and students are very warm and welcoming, and I had a good balance of guidance/support and room for independence. The university is in the midst of developing a strategic plan, so some of the issues that they will need to address in the coming years, as they grow and expand and refine the implementation of their vision, are already well-known to the staff. One of the challenges they face is that everyone has too much to do, due to financial limitations which do not permit expansion of staff and facilities. Beyond the university, CI has a number of centers which are just as active, in their own way, as the university. While this is wonderful, and they are doing amazing work, I sensed that the decentralized format combined with the need for greater central coordination meant that some resources in personnel and diversity of gifts and talents are not always fully utilized. Coordination of communication is also an issue, although I think part of that for me was the fact that I am an outsider and still learning how the mechanisms for communication (among staff, between administration and staff, to the students) functions here. I hope that they will be able to provide more of a participatory role for the students themselves, so that they feel greater ownership about the policies and activities of the university. The service-learning project (e.g., in the class on DRC Realities) provided an excellent example of the effectiveness of student participation. Also, in my class, the students presented a chapel service to demonstrate and disseminate what they had learned about reconciliation and conflict (and, simultaneously, about theologies of music and worship). They did an excellent job, and introduced creative innovations which have the potential to impact the status quo at the university and in the communities in which they live and work. One other issue is the bilingual piece. On the one hand, I think it is an excellent goal to educate students to be able to participate in the anglophone and francophone worlds, which is critical for the development of DRC. On the other hand, UCBC has not yet gotten where it needs and wants to be in terms of bilingual education. I taught my courses in English, and had a translator, which made things easy for me (I speak some French, but am very far from fluent). However, I noticed that some of the students whose English skills were not as strong as their colleagues struggled somewhat with the English portions of the course, even when a translator was present. The university is new, and I am not sure if the bilingual piece is something that just needs more time to develop, or if more effective mechanisms need to be put into place to ensure that all students achieve proficiency in English. Also, if funding could be expanded, it is important that more Congolese and other African faculty can be employed on an ongoing basis, with visiting faculty in a supplementary role, and all faculty be provided with training and support to enhance their pedagogical effectiveness and improve the implementation of UCBC's innovative vision for Congolese education. This is already being done, but could be done even more extensively and regularly. I understand they are working on improving their faculty development. Mary Henton has done a great job facilitating this, and I learned a lot about the UCBC models of pedagogy from her. All this having been said, it is clear that the road to meaningful and sustainable transformation in the DRC is a long one, and I greatly admire the work the Congo Initiative is already doing. I pray that God will enable them to continue on this path, growing and learning as they go, and I hope to accompany them on that journey, in whatever ways I can.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
visiting the university and the offices of one of the centers; working at the university; speaking with administration, staff and students; corresponding with staff and administrators before my visit; hearing from other people in the community about their impressions of UCBC
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
enable them to increase funding so they can (among other things) afford to employ more Congolese faculty to teach more regularly and to expand their training for all faculty in the innovative methods and vision which CI wishes to foster; expand their arts program, integrating it with their other activities (service learning, social justice, classroom learning, etc.); increase the number of Congolese and other African women involved in the leadership and teaching at UCBC (beyond those already involved).
Would you volunteer for this group again?
For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?
Did the organization use your time wisely?
Would you recommend this group to a friend?
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
What one change could this group make that would improve your volunteer experience?
Maybe an orientation session for instructors before we come (perhaps via Skype or something?) Bethany (staff person) and other staff and administrators were INCREDIBLY helpful before and during my visit, and there are some things for which one cannot really prepare beforehand. But a standardized (and updated) orientation would be great, including information on educational standards and procedures, what to expect/how to prepare for the bilingual aspect, academic schedules (hours of instruction, academic calendar, etc.), the situation with electricity and internet access (so we can know in advance how much outside work we can realistically get done while we are in Beni), etc.
Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)
Very much so! I was blessed by my time here in many ways, including: learning about the situation in the DRC first-hand (though I was not here long enough to get more than a glimpse); acquiring professional experience teaching; being introduced to and inspired by a vision for multifaceted transformation (social, ecclesiological, spiritual, national, etc.); learning better how to listen; being compelled to challenge my own stereotypes; making many new friends; and feeling compelled by the experience to maintain a long-term commitment to DRC and the work of Congo Initiative.
How did this volunteer experience make you feel?
Satisfied, inspired, full of ideas for future possibilities (both for new CI projects and the refinement of current practices), excited about all I have learned from the administrators, staff, and students, conscious of having experienced just a small glimpse into the situation in the DRC and hoping to learn more in the future, deeply moved by having found sisters and brothers in Christ here with whom I trust I will grow in friendship and love and learning, humbled by my own ignorance but thankful for God's grace and the patience of my Congolese and international sisters and brothers, frustrated at the obstacles and problems with which my Congolese sisters and brothers deal on a daily basis; hopeful that God will indeed transform this country and that CI will play an important role in that work.
Volunteer & taught two courses in Beni, visited and met with administrators, staff and students.