Well, HELLO Spring! Oh wait, here in Congo, it would go something like: Well, BONJOUR, Rainy Season! And let me tell you, it has been warm – with temperatures hovering between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels at about 90% paired with surprise thunderstorms. And so it goes 350 miles south of the Equator!
Congo continues to inspire me as my work on the capacity-building project at the Congo Protestant University (Université Protestante au Congo) moves forward. Have I already been here in Kinshasa for over 12 months?! As a long-term volunteer serving at the University implementing a strategic communications and capacity-building project, 2014 was a very rewarding year.
As the University looks to position its students as the future leaders of Congo, it believes that its motto, “Education that Builds a Nation,” is the foundation of that success. My presence on campus has begun to influence the growth process in various ways. Of course, the first six months were spent evaluating and better understanding daily life, the system and the procedures in order to effectively implement initiatives. And that evaluation process? It will be continual as things evolve!
Here are a few of the Nuts and Bolts:
Participatory development is sustainable development. In order to establish a strategic and robust program as the foundation of the development initiative, I started with two elements: 1) the creation of a Development Commission that is charged with identifying the project needs of the University and its individual Schools, developing the projects and the project budgets, and overseeing and monitoring the progress of each project; and, 2) the establishment of a Development Department to oversee those new projects.
It is important to engage these Development Commission members in the development process as they are best-positioned to understand and identify the needs of the University. In addition to the Vice Chancellor and General Academic Secretary of the University who leads this Commission, it is composed of motivated and visionary professors from each School – Business, Law, Medicine and Theology. This Commission is designed to be a brain-storming forum – all ideas are considered and discussions are open.
While the assessment of the University’s needs will be a continual process, enough of an evaluation and enough Development Commission discussions have been conducted to begin developing a few projects for funding – 1) comprehensive campus-wide technology project, and 2) build-out of laboratories for the new Medical School building. Because the grant proposal process includes many facets: identifying potential funders; developing the project; writing the proposal; managing the project and budget; and reporting back to the funders, the process needs oversight.
Development work includes mentoring those on the ground so that they can take over and “own” the work. We are currently in the process of hiring an assistant for the Development Department with an advanced level of English. Being able to integrate an eager employee into the Department will serve to enhance the development process.
Last February, the University hosted a visit by a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and the Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, Dr. Peter Agre, and his team to explore malaria research collaboration opportunities. After meetings with various dignitaries, that collaboration effort took root. We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Agre return this March to continue to develop those research opportunities and oversee a University survey in one of Congo’s health zones which will consist of a door-to-door survey on malaria, blood collection and evaluation, mosquito collection and evaluation for species and resistant genes to insecticides.
Raising the University’s profile through connections and contacts, is an important part of my role. For example, a site visit that I made to the largest, and only, sugar plantation in Congo in August led to a follow-up visit with management. In addition, other contacts include various Embassies, foundations and corporations. Of course, these contacts require continual follow-up. While we have accomplished a lot during this year, more time here is needed to solidify the procedures, reinforce the contacts, and continue to mentor those involved in the various initiatives.
In the words of Nelson Mandela:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
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.