AUNE Mission Resonates with Democratic Republic of the Congo

Jim Gruber in the CongoAUNE’s ties with Africa are getting even stronger these days.  Dr. James Gruber of AUNE’s Department of Environmental Studies (ES), was invited to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo  (DRC) to consult on solid waste management and to meet with the Ministry of Higher Education on potential cooperation with Antioch University New England.   He was accompanied by M’Vita d. M’Bambi,  a student in the ES doctoral program and president of the CASED Foundation of Portland,  Maine, which supports economic development for the Congolese.

Gruber consulted with Liloba Na Nzambe, a religious organization that provides social services for the impoverished in DRC’s capital city, Kinshasa, about how to manage solid waste.  Composting alone could recover eighty percent of the waste in a city of 12 million people.  Now, it clogs the city’s drainage, helping to breed malaria-carrying mosquitoes and contributing to a  significant health problem.

The faith community is working in the inner city, operating a hospital, clearing waste off abandoned lots and turning them into community gardens, and building a school.  At Liloba Na Nzambe’s annual assembly, Gruber addressed a soccer stadium of 65,000 people, praising their work building a healthy and sustainable community.   “As our President Obama would say ‘Yes we can;” here I see ‘Yes you do,’” Gruber said in his brief remarks.

Gruber also met with Ou Allons Nous, a women’s empowerment group that is building a sustainable community outside Kinshasa. Ou Allons Nous has offered AUNE the opportunity to set up a research center on a 100-acre parcel of conservation land.

AUNE Inspires Higher Ed
During his trip, Gruber was also invited to meet with the Minister of Higher Education and his senior staff.  The previous month, the Ministry of Higher Education had sent a delegation to AUNE.  Its report recognized that the integration of scholarship and service in AUNE’s approach to higher education could enhance their academy and contribute to critical social changes.

“They were really impressed by how we apply our academic research,” said Gruber, who discussed AUNE’s research philosophy, and how its students and faculty contribute to solving regional and global environmental problems and respond to critical community needs.   They also were impressed by the work of Dr. Beth Kaplin, ES core faculty at AUNE, in the Albertine Rift region of Africa which includes parts of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, DRC, and Zambia.

“Much like Beth is doing in Albertine Rift, our assistance could include exchanges of faculty and students, and research projects,” Gruber said.  “DRC has a more traditional approach to academia, that is, to train scholars.  But the country has systemic problems, and the academic community is not active in helping to solve them. The Congolese recognize the importance of building community capital and the internal capacity of the people to govern themselves.  So they want to explore how higher education can be a more effective partner in building a healthy economy, society, and country.”

The DRC Minister of Higher Education, Bonaventure Chelo Lotsima, is interested in bringing a delegation to AUNE in November to meet with AUNE President Dr. Steve Jones and faculty members to discuss potential cooperative projects.