Partnerships

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.

Teachers Learning Circle Expands, Student and Teacher Progress Grows

Over the course of the past year, College des Savior (CS) teachers have been working with teachers from another school, Lukunga, in order to share student-centered teaching practices and new ideas, as well as build community relationships. This initiative is known as a Teachers Learning Circle. The Circle complements the students’ efforts to develop a Students’ Learning Garden, based in part on knowledge gained through community sharing. Dr. Jerry expressed the purpose of this Teachers Learning Circles initiative as one based on overall growth:

“This is an approach to help Students to flourish, to participate in the learning process in developing some skills to build up their personalities and develop a good relationship with themselves and their communities. Teachers of these two schools are coming together to test and refine this approach before spreading it.”

In June, the teachers met and shared the changes they had observed in each other since they had begun meeting. Teachers noted the introduction of new teaching techniques, like using games and brainstorming, and they also spoke of changes in their ability to relate to the students and their school. 

 The teachers gather to reflect on their past and present engagement with the Teacher Learning Circle

The teachers gather to reflect on their past and present engagement with the Teacher Learning Circle

 The teachers participate in an ice breaker activity 

The teachers participate in an ice breaker activity 

Teachers from both CS and Lukunga shared their testimonies for new teachers to learn about how the program has impacted them.

Mr. Kibulu, of CS, said that:

“The new approach to teaching has helped students to know the importance of learning. The techniques used improve the students’ comfort and bring students to work on their own (as demonstrated in their ability to speak on their own at the Fete de Presentation).”

Mr. Chancard, also of CS, added: “This approach is a great asset to teaching that we did not have before. It improves our ability to get students more involved and active.”

Mr. Kasongo, a Lukunga teacher, spoke of the integration of many topics under this approach to teaching, such as hygiene, health, and agriculture. Another Lukunga teacher, Mr. Corneille, said that: “The methodology used helps to get students more active and encourages them to be more productive, rather than to wait for the teacher to do everything. Now, when I teach, it’s like we are playing while the students are also learning.”

Several students also shared their testimonies. Kashila noted that: “The teachers are asking us every time after they teach something, “Do you understand?” They are not tired and help us to understand.” Others commented on how they are becoming leaders in their community and have learned conflict resolution skills.

Many people in attendance commented on how they’re seeing the seeds of schoolwork bear fruits in the community. This was also evident at the Fete de Presentation, where CS students courageously performed lessons from their schoolwork for a public audience of over 300. The Lukunga teachers attended the Fete and will soon meet with the CS teachers and ten teachers from the Kapini school to evaluate the event and further engage in teacher learning.

 

Spring Has Sprung!: Updates from Giving Back to Africa on Two Ongoing Projects

Students’ Learning Garden

The students are hard at work preparing to break ground on the Students’ Learning Garden. They will compile research on soil, insects, and other essential topics from reading and will be guided by the help of community members. One such group of community members is the staff from the local monastery, which the students visited a few months ago on a field trip. Teachers will also gather information online to share with the students.

On the U.S. side,  we are raising money for supplies needed to start the garden. To find out more about the learning garden and to make a donation , click here.

Teachers Learning Circles: Working with the Lukunga Teachers

At the beginning of April, the College des Savior teachers and Dr. Jerry met with the Lukunga teachers, the group of teachers that they have been working with over the past several months. The teachers shared what they had worked on since the last meeting and what they wanted to practice during the students’ upcoming school vacation. The Lukunga teachers talked about techniques from College des Savior that they want to implement. Virginia said, “I want to act like Mr. Pombo in getting students outside to observe.” Célestin added: “I want to use stories like Mr. Chancard.” Dr. Jerry encouraged the teachers to interact openly. Caro commented that, “CS students are very brave. I will help our students to become like them by sharing this with them.” Photos from the meeting are below.

At the end of April, Dr. Jerry, Mr. Pombo, and Mr. Emmanuel went to visit the Lukunga teachers in their classrooms. They noted the overall safe learning environment among the Lukunga teachers. Ms. Sarah, a 9th grade teacher, was smiling and teaching with patience and encouragement, and the students were active and engaged. In Célestin’s 6th grade class, students enjoyed a game of 20 questions, and in another 6th grade class, Corneille used a technique that the College des Savior teachers employ—outdoor observation. The visit was part of the ongoing relationship between the two groups and the evaluation of their knowledge-sharing. In May, the teachers from both schools will meet at Lukunga for another Teacher Learning Circle.

 Students participating in the 20 questions game.

Students participating in the 20 questions game.

 A sixth grade class practices their outdoor observation skills.

A sixth grade class practices their outdoor observation skills.

Let's Celebrate: Learning, Sharing, and Growing Through the Fete de Presentation

In mid-January, College des Savior and the community came together to support the students in their fete de presentation, a celebration and showcase of what they’ve learned over the past few months. A wide variety people were in the attendance, including 60 parents, 14 teachers, 3 school staff members, 2 members of GBA, NGO representatives, and other special guests from the community.  In total, 140 students were a part of the fete.

 Dr. Jerry provided opening words. 

Dr. Jerry provided opening words. 

 Students and parents gather together. 

Students and parents gather together. 

The event had an official ceremony and presentations from students in the form of skits, poems, and games. The presentations centered on the themes of social connection, conflict management, and teamwork. One group of 4 students put on a skit that involved resolving a dispute amongst friends. They came up with the idea and took the lead in crafting the skit.

The attendees and participants alike were positively impacted by the fete. One even felt inspired to offer books and training to the teachers. Many community members expressed a desire to spread the word about the fete and College des Savior students. The Inspector General Adjunct: “I did not expect that these children would teach us like this. This event should be broadcast on television to get other schools to see it."

Some of the special guests at the fete included 9 teachers for Lukunga, the school that College des Savior has been working to partner with. The Adjunct Director of the school was also there and expressed a desire to continue to build the connection between the schools. “My impressions are good because we saw the kids making effort to present playlets from activities done outside the school. Thus they spoke about the Monastery because they visited it. Really it’s very good and also a good example, and I prefer to see our school following through on our partnership.”

 Parents were able to see the kinds of skills that their children are learning.

Parents were able to see the kinds of skills that their children are learning.

It was a wonderful opportunity to further connect the parents to the students’ educational experience as well. One parent remarked that: “Since I’m here in Kinshasa, I have never seen a school presenting activities like what we have just seen at the College des Savior today and I did not know that we have one very great school here at Mpasa. I’m very, very satisfied. I didn’t believe that the kids from this school could do what they have just done today. I’m going to communicate this with others and next year-- you’ll have many kids.”

Dr. Jerry’s son, who also attended, added: “I really appreciate the students’ achievement. They learned the teamwork and the lessons that we can try to teach others. I really liked the initiative that the kids had to make playlets today. I find that it’s good for the future of the education in Congo.”

After the fete, the school as a whole and the parents both had time to reflect on their role in and the lessons of the event.

It is not often that we get to gather so many members of our diverse communities together. We recognize that the students are catalysts for this kind of social cohesion and know that they will continue to inspire people in the Congo, the U.S., and elsewhere. 

Teacher Learning Circles Aim to Strengthen Cross-Cultural Bridges, Scale Up Successes

Some say you learn by listening, others by teaching. The Noyau teachers are doing both!

The Noyau, the core group of teachers at College des Savior, have become involved in two different Teacher Learning Circles on two continents.

In one, the Noyau are getting to know a group of teachers from nearby Lukunga school in hopes of working with them to implement the learning model from College des Savior at Lukunga.

Giving Up to Give Inspiration Profile: The Ramirez Family and Friends Hold Rice and Beans Dinner

Emily Ramirez, sister of GBA Board Member and GUTG founder Maria Brown, hosted a fun and influential rice and beans dinner to kick off GUTG in 2015. GBA recently had the chance to interview Emily about why and how she planned her dinner and what advice she has for others who are seeking to get involved. Emily herself got involved with GBA after Maria and her husband Kevin adopted their son Oliver from DR Congo in 2012. “Kevin and Maria have done an amazing job at staying involved in his birth country by learning about it and serving where able,” Emily says. “As they started learning more about GBA, Maria became increasingly passionate about the work that was being done and the lives that were being changed through them. Her passion spilled out into most of our conversations, which in turn made us desire to involve ourselves where able as well.”

GUTG was founded by Maria and her family in 2014, with the aim of supporting GBA’s work through everyday offerings. Emily’s rice and beans dinner and many other unique and thoughtful instances of giving were born out of this idea of personal connections and personal gifts. Emily explains what GUTG means: “The fundraiser was asking for others to sacrifice something once a month with the goal of giving the amount you saved through sacrificing to GBA. Being a family of four and on a tight budget, this practical way of giving fit us perfectly. We were able to come up with our creative way of giving as a family, in order for each one of us to be involved, and donate the money joyfully once we completed our ‘sacrifice’ for the month. As a way to pass on that joy, we decided to ask our community group to get involved in GUTG.”

The community group gathers for a delicious dinner with an impact!

Emily decided on a rice and beans dinner after seeing the idea on the GUTG blog, an event that had also previously done by Maria’s family. She and her family first hosted a rice and beans dinner last year and decided to reprise the event in 2015. “We shared this idea with our community group to get the creative juices flowing and sure enough someone in our group shouted out the idea to eat rice and beans altogether,” Emily remarks. “We all agreed this seemed like a more practical way for our entire group to get involved and complete the challenge. Our community group is always looking for ways to serve others, so it wasn't a hard idea to sell. We simply put a night on the calendar for us to come together at our house and share a rice and bean dinner together. We put a donation jar out in the middle of the table so everyone participating could donate the money they would have spent on dinner that evening if they hadn't chosen rice and beans instead. Rice and beans aren't only cheap but also extremely easy to make, so it wasn't a hard dinner to host in the least.”

“Last year our main goal was to involve our community group in giving to the Congo. However, this year our goals were a little different. We still wanted to collect donations, but we also wanted to inform our group more about GBA and the work they are doing in the Congo. We did this by skyping Maria during our time together and having her tell us about GBA. After talking with Maria, we took time to pray for the Congo and the children that are being ministered to through GBA. We not only walked away with more knowledge about The Congo and GBA, but our desire to serve this country grew stronger.” Emily reports that the event raised $81.64 for GBA. Emily encourages others to plan an event or activity that practices the idea of “Giving Up to Give.” She wants others to know that, “It is so easy and extremely rewarding!”

As for the future, Emily thinks there may be another rice and beans dinner on the horizon. Planning a rice and beans dinner, giving up a birthday gift, forgoing a daily coffee, and many other small intentional acts of giving back are all easy ways to benefit GBA and the children of College de Saviors. Invite a few friends to participate, get creative, and let us know what you come up with! Stay tuned for more GUTG ideas and profiles.

GBA Receives Grant for Infrastructure Project

The Bloomington Rotary Club has a long-term relationship with Rotary Club Gombe, one of seven Rotary Clubs in Kinshasa, DR Congo. GBA/PAID have recently been awarded a grant for the following infrastructure project at PAID: (1) build a cistern and water storage system at College des Savoirs, (2) build 6 cabinets to go into 6 classrooms for library books, and (3) build a wall to enclose a section of the property for the children's learning garden that we hope to bring to fruition. This will all happen in 2015. Stay connected with us on Facebook and Twitter (@GBAfrica) for updates on this project. You can also explore the website under "Ways to Donate" for additional ways to get involved.