As volunteers for an international outreach committee of our church since 2011, we have come to know some key leaders, staff, and volunteers of Congo Initiative, both in the U.S. and in Beni, Congo, including the extended Kasali family, Cullen Rodgers-Gates, Kyle and Emily Hamilton, and members of the current Board of Directors. This is a truly amazing and transformative initiative in a troubled nation by people who truly love their neighbors. In the past few years, the Bilingual University of Congo has made amazing physical progress, adding solar energy, completing its community center (with four new classrooms for training over 300 more students), adding faculty for research, theology, and psychological counseling, and developing a new law degree program. Most importantly, Its graduates have become leaders and advocates for human rights, improved agriculture, communications, and community development, to name a few of their accomplishments. Check out www.congoinitiative.org's new website, then join us in supporting a truly transformative, proven outreach by outstanding Congolese citizens!
Congo Initiative has an inspiring vision for transformation of the nation of DR Congo through Christ-based transformation of its future leaders. By establishing UCBC -- a new university in Beni, in the Eastern part of DRC -- and developing other community-based programs in the city (programs for women and children, social justice, primary education, spiritual renewal, agricultural support, radio broadcasting, environmental care, etc.), Congo Initiative is doing hard and important work, and I am proud to support the ministry through time and giving. I have been inspired by the vision of the founder, Dr. David Kasali, and the committed work of the people that work for the ministry. I have also had a chance to visit the campus in person to see the fruits of the ministry's effort first-hand, and that was truly amazing.
Republic of Congo... what a place!
I have taught in U.S. colleges, in Uganda, and in Congo.
The difference was huge.
My students at the University were gems to teach. They were so hungry for truth and for education that would help them to succeed for themselves, for their God, and for their country.
I would gladly teach them anywhere and anytime.
Sometimes I felt helpless in Congo. I was not helpless for myself... it was for the whole situation.
Dr. Kasali and others were there for me 24 hours a day and I never felt in danger or in any way unsupported. Looking back on it I have realized that everyone was sacrificing more than I did just to have me come over and teach.
I taught Christian Formation....a course about growing in Christ and working toward more holiness throughout one's life. The windows were behind my students,,, so as I taught them I saw other students making concrete blocks across the campus and nearby women and children gong to the spring to draw water. The pregnant woman with two small children helping her to carry water was the most poignant example of the depth of the tragedy that is Congo. I will never drink water, read scripture for the water of life, or shelter from the rain without remembering UCBC.
(It was like watching two worlds at once. The women and their little children drew water into large plastic containers because they were thirsty, and the students were just as thirsty for the water of life... while other students were making building materials that would keep rain off their heads.)
Beni is such a heartbreaking city with a light of great hope in it. I was blessed to be part of the teaching. I would recommend it to any Christian teacher who wants to volunteer somewhere in the world where it will make a profound difference on you to go there.
I recommend Dr. David Kasali, his staff, and the students to you. Teaching at UCBC or supporting the effort is prayer and money well spent.
My health will not allow me to go back. Will someone volunteer in my place?
Dr. W Michael McCrocklin
We give because we see the huge potential for future transformation of the Congo through students who go to UCBC. My husband Josh has been to UCBC four times, from 2008 and 2009, and I joined Josh for one of the trips as well. He was fortunate to spend a number of months there and really get to know some of the students while helping promote agriculture and sustainable land use at UCBC. He worked with the students during their work programs: cutting grass with machetes, breaking the sod with hoes, and planting crops. The work program at UCBC is so important because educated people in the Congo are normally seen as people who direct others, and are not always willing to get their hands dirty. By stressing hard work as well as academics, UCBC is training a new class of Congolese university graduates who are ready to really do some transforming work as they graduate and go into communities with the values and education they picked up at UCBC.
I was still in school when we were visited, and Josh went back to school for my PhD when we returned. At this time when we are unable to be in Beni at UCBC, we still really believe in the work there and want to support it however we can. We know the building fund is important, but supporting the students is what we really connected with. Many of the students really struggle to get the school fees necessary to attend UCBC, often having to ask relatives for support, and the student's families often have to make huge sacrifices for the opportunity for their children to attend. By setting aside money each month, we are able to support the great work UCBC is doing whileJosh is finishing school. By being a Kipepeo partner, we hope to help Congo become a better place through a student we help support.
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 visited UCBC in March 2012. I was able to teach a class to theology students and lead a few basketball clinics. The leadership is solid, passionate, and full of vision for the future. God is using this university to change the face of Congo.
I just returned from a brief visit to UCBC, CI's university, and cannot speak highly enough of the work that they are doing. The passion of staff and students is extraordinary and the opportunities they have to change this country for the better are great. I will be counting the days until I return for a longer time. This organization is what international partnership and sustainable development looks like!
I am an executive/electrical engineer at a large engineering firm in the States. I had the privilege to participate with Engineering Ministries International in helping CI develop a master plan for their campus in Beni, DRC. I was extremely impressed with the great work they are doing in that war torn country. They are definitely taking education to a much higher level than is currently available. They are truly making a difference. Right now, in addition to their academic building, they have a partially complete community center. Once this center is complete it will greatly increase their service to the local community.
Congo Initiative 03/17/2012
Bob, thank you for this review. But even more, thank you for the time and energy and attention you gave during your work here with the eMi team. It was wonderful to meet and work with you all. We (CI and UCBC) are so thankful for your work on our behalf. The dedication and professionalism you all demonstrated was a great example for our students; and the teaching you provided along the way a gift from which many benefitted.
I am Francine NABINTU, I have graduated from UCBC in communications. Actually, I am one of the rare Congolese women who are skilled in multimedia and journalism. I got my state diploma in 2000 and did not have any vision for my future life, except getting married and take care of my husband and children as any authentic African girl could think. But, coming to UCBC had changed my vision, perception and hope about myself and my country.
I was challenged by an American multimedia professor, Anne Medley, who came to teach us at UCBC thanks to some donors. She showed us pity stories of Congo that had been told by foreign journalists. The most heard stories of Congo are: war, corruption, rape, bad management or anything of such kind. She asked us why we can’t tell our own stories to change the image of our country. Since than I am getting more and more interested in writing stories, www.francongostories.blogspot.com; editing audio, video, photos about my community and my country.
Thanks to UCBC I now have a vision for my country: “to speak for those who suffer in silence”. Since women have suffered a lot in my country, I have joined the office of Gender Advisor at HEAL Africa. I am dealing with Gender issues within the organization and networking with many women associations. I am applying my communication skills for advocacy and mobilization to change the perception of woman’s place in the society.
I thank Congo Initiative for the seed of hope that they have sown in me and in the life of many Congolese women and men. I do not have enough words to thank anyone who contributes to support ever so little UCBC. May the lord continue to touch and bless you as the fruit of your work will benefit a whole nation.
Congo Initiative 12/09/2011
Thank you, Francine, for your review. We are proud to call you a "UCBC Graduate." You were an example of integrity, dedication, hard-work, service and leadership during your time at UCBC. May God continue to bless you and sustain you and your family.
I visited Eastern Congo in 2004 with Dr. David Kasali and Pastor Dick Robinson and an Elmbrook team on a vision trip. The upstart was, the planting of a seed to sow the future of the University Christian Bilingual
of Congo UCBC. The Congolese seem to be a happy family oriented people, but 50 years behind in commerce, educational opportunities and technology. The young clearly want more. They want educational opportunites, business opportunities and political stability....the establishment of UCBC is a big step in that direction. The task was daunting with little money, little political support and problematic communication (no English). However, moving ahead 2011 graduated the first class of 100 students, due to the exceptional volunteers-architects, technology support and monies provided through grants, trusts and generous personal giving. Congo Initiative is a charitable organization supporting this effort.
There are many parts of the university not completed, technology not installed and students not enrolled because of the lack of financial support.
Congo Initiative needs your help!
I volunteered with Congo Initiative for a year teaching courses within the social sciences and assisting UCBC's administration with curriculum development. In addition, Congo Initiative has given me the opportunity to continue working with them, this time from both Congo and the US. The differences to Congo Initiative and UCBC in Congo from just one year to the next were profound. The quality of the students, academic buildings, student resources, and teaching had risen so much, and I felt more than ever that this was a university.
This encompasses how I see Congo Initiative and UCBC. It is a young organization and university, and change is happening very rapidly in large part to the desire of the Congolese students to learn. In the Congolese context, which is also changing rapidly, I am very excited to know that more and more UCBC students will be seeking the same changes they went through but in the whole of DRC. Watching Congolese students decide how to reconstruct their home continues to be formative of how I learn and work in the US and Congo.
Congo Initiative 10/05/2011
Thank you for your review. And thank you for your continued work on behalf of CI! You bring experience and insight that have helped to shape programs and curriculum. And just as you are inspired by the students, you have touched their lives and helped them develop intellectual capacity and skills to do the work before them.
I had the opportunity to visit CI-UCBC in March 2011. This was my first international missions experience, so I wasn't sure what to expect. We were greeted by the students and teachers of UCBC with open arms. They treated us like we were family, and allowed us to immerse ourselves in their lives for two weeks. I found through both conversations and observation that they truly live their motto, "Being Transformed to Transformed." Every student I spoke with has a desire to transform the Congo by bringing their education back into the community. Their unwavering spirits and love for their community is so inspiring. I believe in the mission of UBCB, and feel that the education these students are receiving will have a powerful impact in Congo.
CI-UCBC is training and empowering future Congolese men and women to change the DR Congo. It has been an incredible experience to be a part of CI-UCBC for the last 2 years. I have treasured every minute of it. I love how the students have the desire to learn and grow through the education and Christian principles they are receiving. The faculty and staff are a blessing and have shown leadership that is influencing the rest of the UCBC and Beni communities. The vision and mission of the university is what is drawing more and more people to be a part of this effort to build future leaders.
Going to UCBC for the first time, I didn't know what to expect. But walking in as a complete stranger, I could feel that something special was happening in that place. UCBC is unique in not only its teaching style, but also because of its students. Each person had such a unique story and was incredibly welcoming and loving to us newcomers. After only two short weeks of being there, UCBC had a special place in my heart. Amazing things are happening there because of the amazing people who fill it.
I love working with CI-UCBC. I believe that their approach challenges the conventional development model. UCBC is building youth capacities, partnering with civil institutions, and community-based organizations to effect change in DR Congo. I have worked with the Service-Learning program for the past two years. During this time I have been impressed with the self-less leadership provided by the staff and administration, especially the Academic Dean, Honore Bunduki.
Congo Initiative 09/17/2011
Thanks, Chelsie! Let's keep spreading the word. - Cullen
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.