Building and Maintaining Relationships

Building and Maintaining Relationships

Congo_-_James_IMG_2846_Sp_2016.jpgGlobal Ministries’ core values – Mutuality, Presence, Community, Justice, and Peace. All of these concepts come together in the word: Collaboration. It is the key to success as I build and maintain relationships and develop projects at the Congo Protestant University/Université Protestante au Congo (UPC).

Before I start, I must add one thought because it is ever present in my collaborations – resilience! Even while being constantly confronted with all of the complexities of daily life, the Congolese people persevere and keep moving forward. Those Congo_-_James_IMG_2446_Sp_2016.jpgcomplications? A tropical rain causes the transportation system to come to a halt, so getting to work becomes a challenge. Or, the internet connection goes down because there is rain in the antenna.  The regular power outages result in food going bad, money being wasted, and additional time out of your busy day to replace what was lost. After all that, a new day always dawns over the Congo River as depicted in the photograph taken at Easter Sunrise service – 2015!

A wise soul once told me, petit à petit or as they say in English, little by little you will accomplish great things. I hang onto that philosophy as I begin each day. And one and a half years later, the University has hired a promising assistant for the new Development Department that is now established at the University. With a background in development work and a solid command of English, he is perfectly positioned to contribute to the University’s growth. As a department of two, we can keep the initiatives moving forward. One more step toward building capacity at this 8,000-strong University.

For the last six months, the Development Committee has been energetically revising the University’s strategic plan. The collaborative effort and energy of these professors are amazing as we brainstorm ideas to support the University’s mission – provide students with a quality education, lead research for the advancement of science and serve the community. Not only are we revising the strategic plan but we are also writing an operational plan alongside in order to assist us as we prioritize each of the elements in our plan.

Congo_-_James_IMG_1418_Sp_2016.jpgThe collaboration with Johns Hopkins and the University continues. It was exciting to host Johns Hopkins professor, Tamaki Kobayashi, in Kinshasa as the research team, led by UPC professor, Dr. Thierry Bobanga, prepared to head east to their field research sites in Kilwa and Kashobwe (two towns on the Congo border with Zambia). As the team surveyed individual families regarding their medical symptoms, malaria prevention measures, and their recent movements across the border with Zambia, they discovered an unusually high rate of malaria. The team took samples and ensured that each individual had access to treatment.  The specimens that were gathered in the villages will be transferred to Zambia for analysis and the data collected will return to Kinshasa for analysis. Talk about cross-border cooperation!

As the Business School gets ready to launch a full-time MBA program, I am in the process of helping to establish an International Development Business course. The program is including this innovative course as a part of the curriculum. It may be the first of its kind in Congo! The fresh eyes of an outsider can be helpful.  Since arriving in Congo, I have noticed that the Humanitarian Aid sector and the Development sector have an enormous presence in this country. That said, I have also noticed that there is a separation between the local population’s participation in the development activities and the development sector’s execution of its activities.  My idea behind this course is to provide students with the opportunity to develop an understanding and gain insight into the international development sector through an overview of this specialized market and its key players. The University is committed to preparing qualified students to enter the work force.

Let’s not forget the Medical School laboratories. Back to the power outages. Oftentimes when the power goes out, so does the water supply. With a research laboratory, that might mean disaster. The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa has committed to fund two large water cisterns to ensure that the flow of water is continuous.  The foundations to support those 530 gallon water tanks are being poured as I type. Building research capacity will enable the students to improve their diagnoses when treating patients.  UPC is building a healthy Congo.

All that and the little activities that take place like:  Joining UCP Medical School graduates as they volunteer for Operation Smile activities, coordinating Fulbright donations in partnership with Congolese basketball star – Dikembe Mutombo, involving UPC students in the Nelson Mandela Day volunteer event, visiting rural hospitals where UPC Medical School interns are doing their clinical rotations, facilitating an American Theology professor’s lecture series at UPC, constant improvements to the website, and coordinating management and leadership training for students with local businesses. The list goes on! To be involved in this process is amazing!

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

― Nelson Mandela

Linda James serves as a Long-term volunteer with the Protestant University in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She assists with their capacity building program. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.