Coming Together for a Meal

Following engineer Mununga’s presentation about composter use within a garden, there was a community meal using vegetables harvested from the Students’ Learning Garden. College des Savoirs (CdS) students invited community (‘street’) kids, who had previously intervened with the Students’ Learning Garden fence and vegetables, to join them in this meal. The CdS students were able to see their hard work pay off and the entire community benefitted from the vegetables grown within the raised garden beds. This was an opportunity for the members of CdS to share their experiences creating and caring for the Students’ Learning Garden and the vegetables produced from it with the Mpasa community.

1.jpg

Parents, CdS teachers and students all helped to prepare the meal for the community. Some parents also brought what had grown in their private gardens to discuss and share what vegetables had been harvested from their homes. With the culmination of the bountiful meal, students were tasked with emerging next steps for implementing the composter in their Students’ Learning Garden. Students, with the guidance of CdS teachers, will craft a deposit within the composter to receive and store all the waste and then invite community members to bring their compost to the garden.

2.jpg

The hopes of this event was to shed light on the importance of the Students’ Learning Garden within the Mpasa community. Students were able to share with the ‘street’ kids the bounty of plants from the garden as well as play and socialize. Parents were able to see the hard work that students had been putting into the Students’ Learning Garden and were amazed by the results. Those community members unaffiliated with CdS also received insight on what was taking place within the school. They thoroughly enjoyed the meal prepared. This community meal was an amazing event that brought everyone together and we hope to continue these meals with the vegetables harvested from the garden to further highlight the importance of its growth and the necessity for care of it.

Loyola University of Congo Visit to the Students' Learning Garden

There was excitement and anticipation across the College de Savoirs (CdS) community as they were waiting the arrival of engineer Manunga, from Loyola University of Congo, to commence the composting efforts within the Students’ Learning Garden. Parents and teachers met in the garden in preparation and established that the street kids should be congratulated and thanked for a job well done regarding their help reinforcing the fence around the Students’ Learning Garden. It was also unequivocal that as many community members as possible would attend the visit from engineer Manunga to learn about the composter within the garden. It was likewise crucial to have the CdS students invite all peers to the community meal following the special visit.

2.jpg

One parent talked about his recent attendance at a workshop about agriculture in the Bandundu region. He stated many attending were not aware of the phases of composting, and he was grateful for the CdS students that personally educated him. He was able to share that knowledge with the supplementary attendees and was praised for his knowledge on the topic. He said it was at that moment when he grasped the impact of the significant knowledge and abilities that the CdS students are developing. Another parent introduced a community member who was always doing her part to care for the garden without ever being asked to do so. Her efforts included making sure that the reinforced fence would stay in place, and she returned any pieces of bamboo to CdS if she noticed they had become dislodged. She was impressed with the Students’ Learning Garden and stated that her two kids attended CdS in 2002 and they now were both attending University.

1.jpg

Engineer Mununga visited a couple days later. He congratulated the CdS students, teachers and parents on their efforts within the Students’ Learning Garden. He reminded the community of the importance of the garden: providing food for the school families or providing money for the maintenance of the garden through sales of harvested plants, and enhancing the wellbeing for the community. He then led students through a science experiment in which he compared a sample of regular soil to the composted soil post-biodegradation. After this demonstration, he explained to the students the role of water, soil, and nutrients (such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous) within the waste which create a nutrient-rich soil to use for cultivation. He also further explained for the need of biodiversity (adding leaves, grass, and legumes) within the waste.

3.jpg

We believe that Giving Back to Africa has achieved a critical goal with CdS. The students and teachers have been empowered. They are living as servant leaders in their communities. The community is becoming engaged and empowered as a result. An outcome of GBA’s work is sustainability, empowering the students, teachers, and community to continue to build themselves up, and we believe this is coming to fruition.

Developing Group Spirit: Teachers Reflect on Impacts to Students' and Their Own Lives from Teacher Learning Circles in 2017

On December 16, Dr. Jerry and teachers from the College des Saviors, Kapini, and Lukunga schools convened their last Teacher Learning Circle (TLC) of 2017 to reflect on what they had learned in 2017 and what they looked forward to in 2018. Present at the meeting were also guests from the Education Ministry.

To begin, they discussed the quantifiable numbers of 2017: seven small group teacher meetings, six large group meetings, and three schools involved. At each meeting, teachers shared best practices, discussed classroom issues, and brainstormed solutions.  

Then they discussed the equally important, harder to quantify impacts of the Teacher Learning Circles: inspiring a fight against erosion in the Kapini’s school community, mentorship, improved teacher-student rapport, socialization, and the reinforcement of school curriculum.

image003.jpg
image009.jpg
image011.jpg
image013.jpg

The compounding impacts of things like better teacher-student rapport made even larger waves, changing the very way that students and teachers related to one another, and in some cases, even changing the styles of teaching for some. Before participating in the TLCs, one teacher was known for his saying: “everyone for himself, God for all.” But throughout his participation, he began to find ways to teach to students at all performance levels, not just to students who were already strong academically. “Through the learning circle, he developed the group spirit,” Dr. Jerry remarked.

Several other teachers noted similar changes in their philosophies. Mr. Chancard remarked that helping the students who struggle most benefits everyone. “The weak will become strong and the strong will become stronger.”

Teachers became more comfortable with students, less strict, and more open to new teaching methods, and in turn, students gained confidence, learned how to communicate with adults, and looked forward to attending school.  

Attendees also highlighted potential areas for improvement in 2018, desiring to disseminate reports from the TLCs and to find a way to bring the message of the TLCs, and the curriculum its built around, to a larger audience. One of the visitors from the Education Ministry suggested starting a newsletter to report on TLC meetings.

Participants also gave an overview of the distinct student-centered, asset-based teaching program that has been in place at College des Saviors over the past five years. Many remarked how it has brought not only a new way of teaching, but a new way of looking at life.

Goals for 2018 include sending a College des Saviors delegation to Lukunga school to help them with their student garden, as well as collecting more indicators about impacts to the students from the curriculum, including reading, writing, and attendance markers. To end the day, participants answered a reflection question to prepare for themselves for the new year. They asked themselves: how will you improve your teaching this year? After celebrating progress and planning for next steps, the teachers are ready to take on the new year.

image033.jpg

***

If you missed our blog post detailing what exactly is a Teacher Learning Circle, refresh your memory, here.

Indiana University PhD Candidate Studies Teacher Learning Circles at College des Saviors, Partner Schools

Giving Back to Africa was excited to welcome Indiana University PhD Candidate Jennifer Lund to College des Saviors in October for a whirlwind on-the-ground tour of its Teacher Learning Circles (TLCs). Lund met GBA co-founder Dr. Ann Marie Thomson in the fall of 2015 and was presented with the possibility of cataloging six years of GBA data. For Lund, a PhD Candidate at in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a concentration in international and comparative education, applying her specialized education and professional skills to a data project for a service learning nonprofit just made sense. As Lund puts it: “So, having spent several wintry days with Ann Marie looking at pages and pages of handwritten lesson plans and course reflections in French, the idea of focusing on teacher professional development in the DRC became a very real possibility.”

Fast forward almost two years to Lund’s inaugural trip to DR Congo. The data project she began in 2015 has turned into a dissertation topic. Her goal is to analyze GBA through the lens of teacher professional development, using the Teacher Learning Circles as a case study. “I will explore how a specific group of teachers affiliated with GBA have evolved over time to become teacher-mentors,” she explains.

GBA has been using Teacher Learning Circles for about two years now. TLCs bring teachers from different schools together to workshop their classroom ideas and discuss problems. Lund notes that TLCs are not new in the toolkit of professional development overall, but they are relatively new in DR Congo. TLCs cultivate solidarity for teachers and provide a safe space in which they can share their trials and successes, their questions and proposed solutions.

“In this way, TLCs build confidence and help teachers feel like they are not alone in their problems,” Lund says. “TLCs promote a student-centered classroom and the teachers learn to support each other so that they can in turn learn to support their students.” This student centered-approach lies at the heart of GBA’s mission as well. College des Saviors leverages students’ assets-- their knowledge, community roles, and talents-- to breathe life into the service learning model. Students have executed many community projects over the past six years, including a Students’ Learning Garden, by carefully researching and learning about topics like water and waste management and then applying them to real-life issues.

“One of the most important tenants of the TLC is that every person should have a voice,” Lund remarks. “This is something that is transferable to the classroom where even the weakest students are deserving of attention and encouragement.” TLCs encourage students and teachers alike to lead.

 Lund meets with Director Sebastien 

Lund meets with Director Sebastien 

 Lund shadows a class

Lund shadows a class

Throughout her visit, Lund was able to tour the Student Learning Garden, observe classes, and engage in conversations with the community. She visited twp partner schools and conducted focus groups with teachers and administrators. She interviewed each school’s principal and spent time shadowing daily interactions. She even met with DR Congo Education Ministry Inspector Veronique Shako, who was interested in planning a visit to College des Saviors to learn more in person. 

 School staff and Lund visit the garden

School staff and Lund visit the garden

 College des Saviors teachers introduce Lund to the school's programs 

College des Saviors teachers introduce Lund to the school's programs 

When asked about what she found most striking about the trip, she notes the rich way in which music permeates all aspects of life in DR Congo. “As a musician myself, I had the very great honor to end my trip by taking part in a rehearsal of the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra through a series of connections.  I was handed an extra violin, given some music, and ended up playing in (sight-reading, mind you!) what was really more of a concert for American dignitaries from the U.S. embassy who happened to be visiting that evening. I felt completely accepted by my Congolese section-mates who chatted with me and sent an encouraging grin my way after we finished a tough passage.  That pretty much sums up my impression of Kinshasa.  Be ready to improvise in the face of a challenge, but you will always have friends, music, and laughter there when you need them.”

With the TLCs at College des Saviors and its partners, that’s exactly what they are aiming to do: improvise in the face of a challenge, with a circle full of friendly faces to help them through the tough passages.

***

Jennifer Lund is a PhD Candidate at Indiana University in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a concentration in international and comparative education. She holds an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Michigan State University. Her specialties are teaching and teacher professional development, having worked in southern Thailand as an English Language Fellow and Nancy, France as a university-level English lecturer. Pending approval of her dissertation proposal and additional funding, Lund would like to return to Kinshasa in 2018 to continue data collection.

Loyola University Field Trip Yields Composting Inspiration for Students

At the end of May, College des Savior students and staff visited Loyola University of Congo to learn more about composting, which is a central component of the sustainability curriculum and the Students’ Learning Garden. The group started off with a presentation from Giving Back to Africa (GBA) Project Manager Dr. Jerry Kindomba about the model of student-centered leadership and service learning used at College des Savior. The attendees were impressed with the students’ strong performance with their curricula, which they then saw in action at a hands-on composting demonstration.

 Observing the composting presentation

Observing the composting presentation

At the composting site visit, the workshop facilitators, two teachers and an engineer, asked the students about agriculture and general knowledge topics and were amazed by how much the students already knew. The students felt right at home with the subject matter and tone of the lessons. Dr. Jerry remarked that: “The students were not disoriented by the language of these two professors. The richness of the vocabulary lessons taught in the various modules helped them to be comfortable communicating with the professors. They asked their own questions as well and the teachers appreciated this .”

 Students taking notes, garnering the nickname "little scientists," for the day

Students taking notes, garnering the nickname "little scientists," for the day

However, they also added to their rich knowledge base by learning more about the scientific process behind composting, like how larvae and worms assist in the composting process, and what plants make up a good batch of compost. The facilitators led a hands-on composting demonstration for the students.They enjoyed seeing students take notes and referred to them as “little scientists.” Professor Pululu, of Loyola, remarked that: “The students have impressed me positively because they have carried out an extraordinary scientific approach by first asking questions and seeing how they can bring about solutions by making a composter.” This reflects the asset-based, community-driven learning model that the students guide at College des Savior.

 Planting the cacao tree together

Planting the cacao tree together

 Student Ntumba Nadege watering the cacao tree

Student Ntumba Nadege watering the cacao tree

The group ended their visit by planting and tending to a cacao tree together. Both the Loyola staff and the College des Savior staff and students acknowledged that only through community support had this trip been made possible and that it was a great opportunity for future resources as the students progress with their sustainability projects. One of the Loyola facilitators even encouraged the students to try out their own composting experiments back home in small groups and offered to help set up a composter at the school after students do initial research about what makes good compost in their area.

The students were eager to get home and apply their new skills. Beya Beya said: “I enjoyed their composter, their way of working as a team. They are really well organized. When I come to study here in Technique after Secondary School, I will see again this tree that we planted.” Teachers and parents agreed, praising Loyola’s hospitality and the progress in making community connections. Teacher Mr. Chancard also noted his appreciation of “...the humility of the teachers and the love of the professors who have abundantly occupied themselves to give their precious time to the students…”

Upon their return to school, students led a presentation for fellow students who had been unable to attend the field trip and began to master their newly-learned information by teaching it to others. Teachers and staff also met with a Loyola representative the following week, beginning plans for a bright partnership between the two institutions committed to community and student-focused education.

College des Savior and Kapini Schools Partner Up to Combat Erosion

For many months now, College des Savior has been working with the nearby Kapini school to bring teachers into the GBA curriculum and expand the base of community knowledge and expertise. This has involved one-on-one mentoring and observation, group reflections, and staff trainings.  Now, as erosion threatens the Kapini school’s neighborhood, the two schools are using the skills they have been practicing to tackle a whole new type of challenge.

College des Savior and Kapini staff met with community members, students, and parents in early March to discuss the erosion issue and brainstorm solutions. GBA PM, Dr. Jerry Kindomba, introduced the meeting with a community-building game and called for the group to think of their actions like that of a tree with many branches, able to spread good work throughout the community. The group listened to an expert speak on potential solutions to the erosion issue. Together, they forged a three-step plan of action to 1) promote local and government awareness of the issue, 2) redirect the road in the erosion area, and 3) use sandbags and plant bamboo trees to help control the erosion.

 Participants join in the conversation at the first outreach meeting

Participants join in the conversation at the first outreach meeting

Just a week later, College des Savior and Kapini participated in another community meeting to educate additional community members about the campaign. College des Savior and a group of Kapini parents donated erosion prevention sandbags to the Kapini school to kick-off the donation effort. Another community member has also pledged to donate 2500 bags, and the initiative has the backing of several local government officials. A handful of pastors from area churches also agreed to take the messages to their congregations. This meeting also included a walk-through of the affected areas to talk to people in-person about the issue and the efforts to resolve it. A third community meeting took place on April 2nd.

 Sandbags, like the one pictured above, will be used to fight the erosion

Sandbags, like the one pictured above, will be used to fight the erosion

 Meeting participants toured the affected areas and met with neighbors

Meeting participants toured the affected areas and met with neighbors

College des Savior and Kapini are proving that their relationship and practiced skills extend beyond the classroom and into real life. Giving Back to Africa’s curriculum encourages the solving of real-world problems through collaboration that leverages community resources, emphasizing that all parties have knowledge and tools to bring to the table. This is exemplified through the use of knowledge of the local area and ecosystem, sandbags, bamboo trees, and personal connections to fight the erosion. Willing to work together on this pressing, local issue, the two schools are applying their lessons learned not only about science and nature, but also about engaging the community, employing assets, and unity.

When​ ​Shovels​ ​and​ ​Love​ ​Become​ ​Assets:​ ​The​ ​Deep-Reaching​ ​Roots​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Students’​ ​Learning Garden 

Colorful crops, interactive school lessons, and a community gathering space-- the Students’ Learning Garden is becoming a reality. Students and teachers, with input from staff and community members, have been hard at work for many months planning, researching, and now executing the project. From visits to homesteading operations to performing skits about waste management, students have combined life lessons with academic skills in preparation for the culmination of their three-year Sustainability Curriculum. At the end of February, they sprung into the next step in the process by purchasing gardening tools.

 Students and teachers look for the right tools at the market

Students and teachers look for the right tools at the market

image011.jpg

But these items are more than just shovels and spades-- they're “assets to organize our garden,” remarked student Noella. Selecting the tools at the market was an exciting experience for all, and students noted that organizing the garden will take wisdom, courage, love, intelligence, leadership, and humility. These intangible qualities serve as assets as well that bind the students together to achieve their common goal. When asked who benefits from the garden, the students’ answer was simple: “Everyone.” And who owns it? “Students, teachers, and the community.”

Another asset the students have been leveraging? Homemade dictionaries. The unique study guides are full of sustainability-related terms to apply to the garden. Below, the students write and practice their definitions. Combining the power of words and actions, the College des Savior students are putting all of their assets towards the end goal of a thriving Learning Garden.

 Students work on building their dictionaries

Students work on building their dictionaries

image013.jpg

Students Becoming Teachers: Presentations Showcase the Circle of Learning at College des Saviors

The new year brings a time for both reflection and looking forward. Teachers at College des Saviors have been sharing how the school curriculum has influenced their personal lives. Many are applying knowledge to community or personal gardens, composting and managing waste. They are also brainstorming about how to keep students comfortable and engaged in the learning process moving forward. Some suggested verbal encouragement, others motivational activities, and also the teachers have suggested to “promote teamwork between students because very often they apply themselves more by working together.” 

Four students, who have all studied a combination of the GBA educational modules over the past five years, joined the teachers in reflection. The students range from 6th to 11th grade. In a presentation to the teachers and guests, the students reviewed key points from the clean water, waste management, nutrition, and agriculture/sustainability curriculums and demonstrated the application of those lessons into their lives. Ebimba, the 11th grader, elaborated on the water cycle and drew the connection between unclean water and water-borne diseases. Sixth grader Pombo spoke on the difference between biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste, and all students presented on highlights from the curriculums they had participated in, as well as the school garden. 

The students took questions from the group and shared anecdotes from their personal lives. Kongolo, from the 8th grade, helped convince his neighbors to start a garden, and in doing so, provide healthier food options for the family. After the presentation, staff made a visit to Kongolo’s home to see his own garden and animal husbandry work and talk with his family. They also saw the neighbors’ garden that Kongolo influenced-- which used to be just empty land! Ebimba shared about his system at home to separate and biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste. Ntumba Nadege, in 7th grade, discussed nutrition with her family, asking her mother to incorporate a larger variety of foods, and locally available ones, into their diet.

Attendees were impressed by the students’ presentational skills and their demonstrated mastery of the curriculum material. Even though the students had little time to prepare for the presentation, their energy was high and their efforts were well-received by all. The students led the group with the skill and composure of teachers themselves, having come full circle in learning, applying, and now sharing their knowledge with others. Next up for the students and teachers in an Integrated Review of material, covering many topics and using peer groups and innovative strategies for the review. 

 

Solar Workshop Lights Up College des Saviors

In today's world, we often hear about sustainability and the idea of becoming stewards of our natural resources. Conservation, creativity, and community involvement with natural resources have all been key components of GBA’s curriculum at College des Saviors from the beginning. We are constantly looking for ways to become more accountable to our environment, for the benefit of the Earth and each other.

From clean water to waste management, students and staff at College des Saviors school have learned about environmental topics, gone on field trips, and applied their knowledge to community issues. In October, they tried out a new idea: a sustainability workshop.

 College des Saviors school staff, aided by community Pastor Dan and his group, hosted a solar energy workshop last month. The school recently installed a solar panel on its roof. Over 250 students and 25 adults participated in the two-day workshop. Students came from both primary and secondary school levels and got hands-on experience.

 Pastor Dan does a demonstration for the students

Pastor Dan does a demonstration for the students

 Students eagerly watch and wait for their turn to try

Students eagerly watch and wait for their turn to try

 The workshop’s method of teaching embodied the “learning by teaching” technique, as the initial facilitators prepared lessons to teach to a second group of facilitators who went on to teach the students. The facilitators were mostly adults, but students Beya Beya and Mbwebwe were chosen to teach their peers alongside the adults as well (see the slideshow below). They were thrilled to have the opportunity and thrived in the experience. 

 A solar-powered light shines bright in the demonstration!

A solar-powered light shines bright in the demonstration!

 The student participants at the workshop learned the basics of solar power and practiced using solar-powered devices and solar installation. Students were amazed by the solar-powered radios and fans! They also received solar lights to take home in hopes that they can continue the cycle of teaching and learning with others (pictured below in the final slideshow).

 Students got hands on practice with solar devices and installation

Students got hands on practice with solar devices and installation

 Students loved using solar-powered fans and radios!

Students loved using solar-powered fans and radios!

 The workshop was a huge success!

The workshop was a huge success!

 

 

 

Back to School and Into Fall: Transitions Bring Growth

The transition into fall each year is marked by the “back-to-school” feeling in the air. College des Savior students went back to school in mid-September-- and welcomed many new students into the school.  After much community outreach from teachers and staff, including personal door-to-door visits, 115 new students came to College des Savior for this new school year. Thirty-six new students came to school on the first day of classes. The teachers were eager to meet the new students and ignite learning from Day 1.        

 Students and staff enjoy the start to the new school year

Students and staff enjoy the start to the new school year


Dr. Jerry visited classrooms to kick off the new year. He observed the attentiveness of the teachers and the growing classrooms. “In the past, for the beginning of the year, to have 100 students, we had to wait 1 or 2 months, but this year, one week later, we counted 177 Students.” Even after school had already begun, parents continued to enroll students.        

                                
 Dr. Jerry also toured the raised garden beds that students cared for over the summer holiday. With teacher and parent help, including advice from the partner Lukunga teachers, the students’ raised garden beds flourished. The students planted vegetables in compost in August, and by mid-September, they harvested. They even tried their own experiments with the beds! Student Beya Beya’s mother assisted with the harvesting process (pictured below), and the vegetables will go towards nutritious meals for the students that live at the school.

What's in store next? Continuing to care for the garden and incorporate new lessons into the curriculum. Dr. Jerry is encouraging classes to go visit the garden beds and evaluate the project together.