See, I am doing a new thing!...I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

Delegation from Eastern Congo Initiative visits UCBC

On Monday, January 23, 2012, Congo Initiative (CI) and Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC) had the pleasure of hosting friends and partners from Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). ECI is the first advocacy initiative focused exclusively on working with community-based organizations (CBOs) in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The seeds of relationship between ECI and CI began informally in 2006 through personal contacts and a partnership between CI and Christ Presbyterian Church (Edina, MN). These seeds were watered in the following years through CI’s friendship with HEAL Africa.

The partnership became formal in 2011 with a grant from ECI for the UCBC Communications Development Project. With ECI's funding, this Project consisted of three goals: To strengthen--

  1. Gender equity in the Communications program by providing scholarship support for women studying communications at UCBC.
  2. Technological capacity at UCBC through establishment of Radio Tele Bilingue (RTB), staff support, and the purchase of hardware and software for the UCBC community, and the Communications and Computer Science department.
  3. Civic engagement of university students, with particular attention to leveraging student programming of RTB relative to DRC’s 2011 presidential elections.

ECI’s founder, actor Ben Affleck, led the January 23rd delegation of approximately twenty individuals that included Chris Affleck (Ben's mother); Howard G. Buffet, founder of the Howard G. Buffet Foundation; Michael Gerson, opinion writer with the Washington Post; Joe Whinney, founder of Theo Chocolate; Whitney Williams, Executive Director of ECI in the US; and Carol Williams, former US representative from  Montana, and mother of Ms. Whitney Williams. USAID representatives Eric Naranjo, Private Enterprise Officer, and Kande Mutungulu, Natural Resource Specialist, joined the group along with Seth Doane, a news correspondent from CBC this Morning and Scott Terry, CEO of Tempus Jets completed the delegation.

UCBC was the final stop on a 4-day trip through the region. ECI coordinators articulated three goals for their time: (1) to visit ECI partner organizations, (2) see examples of hopeful, promising institutions, and (3) hear directly from students about the impact of UCBC in their lives.

From UCBC’s perspective, this was an opportunity to orient the delegation to UCBC, to feature students, and to capture the minds and hearts of the individuals.

The Visit

Upon arrival at UCBC, the delegation was greeted by CI Co-Founders David and Kaswera Kasali, the planning team and UCBC students. Six students had prepared as hosts/guides for the tour. Each student had a 6-8 minute presentation which included a brief summary of her or his story, reason for being at UCBC, and description of an aspect of the university.

Rebecca, for example, explained her interest in developing skills as a counselor. Victor, a former student and now manager of IT services, and Djabu, an Applied Sciences student and former child soldier, showcased the computer labs. Ruth explained that one of the draws for her to attend UCBC was the university’s commitment to a triadic education (academics, work, service) and support of women students.

At the RTB studio, the delegation heard from Nzuzi Adrien, Communications student and radio technician. Students also recorded interviews that David Kasali conducted with Ben Affleck, Chris Affleck, and Michael Gerson. These interviews will be broadcast over RTB and uploaded soon to the CI and UCBC web sites.

The visit concluded with a thirty-minute conversation between the delegation, Communications faculty and students. Bora Innocent, Coordinator of Communications shared some of the challenges and opportunities facing faculty at UCBC. Students described the leadership conference on voter enrollment and democratic process conducted at UCBC as part of the grant project. They also described some of the programming they broadcast over RTB in the run-up to the elections.

It is important to note that UCBC is the only university in the country with a student-run radio station--a unique distinction.

Preparing to "Tell the Story"

Preparation for the visit began several months in advance. A team, led by Service-Learning Coordinator Chelsie Frank and ECI Partnership Manager Baraka Kasali, communicated and met with ECI staff on numerous occasions to get clarity about goals and expectations for the visit. The team also worked directly with the student hosts to develop talking points and shape the agenda. Students and staff spent at least 5 hours specifically writing and coaching each other on their presentations. An attitude of shared ownership prevailed as students and staff recognized the significance of “telling our story.”

CI and UCBC well-positioned with ECI

In 2011, ECI conducted research throughout eastern DRC to “study development activities and to identify and assess CBOs....and provide much-needed insight and context to project partners about current conditions in eastern DRC, and to facilitate partnerships between funders and CBOs.” Out of the more than 290 organizations examined, 90 were considered “noteworthy.” Of those, UCBC was among 20 institutions identified as candidates with which to nurture significant partnerships.

Among the partnership-building activities are workshops at which ECI is gathering representatives from the CBOs to educate them about ECI’s funding priorities, plans, and reporting processes. ECI has also sponsored CBO representatives to participate in the Rift Valley Institute's Great Lakes Course. Baraka Kasali, currently serving as Relationship Manager of the ECI partnership, represented UCBC at the 2011 conference.

ECI is currently in the process of applying for funds from USAID to address education-related issues and serve as a flow-through funding source for its partners.