The beginning of my second week continued with visiting the remaining seven schools. I cannot deny that after the first eight visits, I did not have the same level of patience and enthusiasm going into the second week. I found it very hard to continue travelling long distances into remote areas only to see schools that require such urgent and extensive repairs.
Most of these meetings with the principals followed the same line and almost always left me with a laundry list of problems about the school, underfunded curriculum and high numbers of uneducated youth in the community who cannot afford to enroll. Had this been my first trip to each of the schools, I’m sure the accumulative affect of the needs of all the schools would have been extremely discouraging to me. Fortunately, from my prior visit with Jon and Aristide, I knew what to expect and did not allow myself to get overwhelmed. Here is an example of a letter principals handed to me both expressing their gratitude and listing their current problems and needs. I received ten of these letters in total.
Yet, there was one particular element of the visits I could never fully accept and adapt to. As a white person travelling into parts of Congo, where the local people are unaccustomed to seeing people of my skin colour in their communities, the constant attention and focus on me was draining. The word they called me was “Muzungu”. It is a historic label that comes from the first locals to see a white person and notice he used strange paper to trade things. Muzungu essentially means powerful man who trades with money, and the term over time become synonymous with white skin. It is a very unique, and not an altogether great, feeling being called something that obviously identifies you as an other, and, over time, it did become taxing. Yet, having had the experience in a safe context, I believe it offered value in its humbling and self-reflective consequences.
Of other notable news, on Tuesday I was reunited with our former translator from the 2013 trip. His name is Innocent and he works for the UN as a translator. During our first trip his services were invaluable having helped effectively and efficiently conduct our school interviews and, on one occasion, even escape extortion from some opportunistic police. I was sad to say goodbye to our present translator Faustin. He had worked tirelessly for us without ever asking for payment. I had grown to trust him and consider him a friend, so I did not hesitate to offer him an invitation to our first meeting for our Educational Technology Centre whose discussion follows.
We finished the school visits on Wednesday, March 11 and Thursday we began work on another of our principle objectives: the creation of an Educational Technology Centre (ETC).
In February, before departing, I purchased three Acer Switches, a laptop-tablet hybrid model of computer, with the goal of using them to teach our students basic computing skills. Mulume was extremely helpful in finding me potential ETC coordinators along with a possible location to establish the centre.
Here’s a video update I posted to our Indiegogo online fundraising campaign prior to the meeting where I introduce the project and outline the meeting’s objectives