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Justin H.

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Congo Initiative
May 6, 2011

In October 2007, I arrived in Beni, DRC to teach English as a second language at UCBC for a year. Little did I know my one year plan would turn into three years and provide the opportunity to work in various capacities with an initiative and University making significant impact in eastern DRC.

Higher education is often set aside in "development work" for the sake of immediate and urgent needs. Moreover, until recently, discourse surrounding international development and all its elements (education, conflict resolution, humanitarian aid) has lacked critical reflection on its western roots and management. In eastern DRC, NGOs and the UN are met with skepticism, and the desire for Congolese founded and run organizations and institutions is desperately needed.

This is precisely why Congo Initiative - UCBC is so unique, offering the younger generation opportunities to receive practical education and skills in order to help there communities flourish. Students learn social research skills to help identify the needs of their settings and ways research may lead to solution. Additionally, the University provides a platform and space to dialogue across tribal and national identities, class, gender, and perspectives, creating a diverse community centered on one goal, to bring about change in DRC.

As noted, western aid and development is often still rooted in power dynamics and lacks critical analysis that takes into consideration the realities and needs on the ground. I believe strongly in the role of education. As important as it is for students (including myself) to travel to places like eastern Congo and research and participate in its change, first and foremost, opportunity should be provided for the young Congolese passionate about transforming their own communities and nations.

I have had the privilege of witnessing the university's development from the beginning stages and look forward to participating in the first students' graduation ceremony on July 30, 2011. Their sacrifice and commitment to their educational development exhibits resiliency and I have no doubt the future of DRC is found in their minds, hands, and faith.


There remains many challenges and the Congo Initiative - UCBC will strengthened by development of consistent resource channels that will help sustain its functioning. The students (and their families) contribute immensely to their education, but in order to provide the best, scholarships and endowment funds are necessary. Additional faculty and faculty development remains one of the greatest needs. This includes Congolese faculty as well as international faculty that can contribute diverse perspectives in respective fields and create an atmosphere of research and learning together.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

its ability to bring the community together, allow me to be a part of the community as one with a western identity, understandably met with skepticism based on a historical experiences and sometimes present (post-colonial) dynamics. It has given me hope in a Christian community that is authentic, and willing to challenge the grains of popular modern understanding of what it means to live faithfully to the Christian faith. Beni and UCBC community has indeed become a second home.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Develop more sustainable funding avenues. Create further space for critical thought and diverse perspectives across all the fields while remaining sensitive to the already established culture. Focus the energy on faculty recruitment and develop a support and logistical structure to attract more faculty.

More feedback

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Life-changing

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)

This experience has opened a number of doors I never thought I would have the skills and opportunity to pursue. It has introduced me to a new community of friends and family. I've learned languages, intercultural awareness, in a beautiful environment of eastern DRC. It has shaped my perspective of the world, challenging my American identity and the things that our culture often perceives as "good" and beneficial, without considering its expense and impact on others.

How did this volunteer experience make you feel?

As if I was a part of something a lot larger than myself, and something that will bring about sustainable and significant change.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2011

MY ROLE:
Volunteer & I first taught English as a second language, then moved into a more administrator role as communications liaison and director of development and partnership.