Columbia University

Kleero Klara Rodstrom Eero Lunden
Exchange City Marc Leverant Robert Passov
Congolese Think Tank Andrew Jacobs Hyunchang Cho
The Art & Dance Strip Wanlika Kaewkamchand
Education Through Traditional Practices Maximiliano Noguera
100%: Agriculture Education Annie Kurtin Ravi Raj
L[earn]ing Factory Ellie Park Julian Pancoast

Sarah J. Hart Georges Malaika Foundation Congo-Columbia

On a bright afternoon of October, 2009, the residents of Kalebuka, the village outside Lubumbashi where GMF’s school is being built, welcomed 12 students from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. It was an afternoon of exuberant dancing, drumming, singing, and speeches that dwelt on the hope and potential of cross-continental collaborations.

Of course, such collaboration has already been established in Kalebuka. Markus Dochantschi, the students’ professor, is also founder of studioMDA and the principle architect for the GMF school. On this trip, Dochantschi confirmed plans so that construction at Kalebuka could begin, but the other purpose of the trip was for research. The Columbia students were charged with the task of designing potential new schools for Congo. Their proposed designs were to be culturally relevant, aesthetically coherent and, most importantly, to embody whole new systems of education that would creatively address persistent issues of poverty. The students’ projects are motivated by the idea that Africa can develop in a “leapfrog” manner, such that infrastructure and institutions built there will improve upon, rather than mimic, models in the west.

Over the 11 days the Columbia students were in Congo, they visited the University of Lubumbashi, many primary and secondary schools, orphanages (including Magone, where GMF has sponsored most of the girls’ educations), hospitals, villages, a newly-built copper mine and refinery, aid projects and cultural institutions. They spoke with their contemporaries—the students in the University of Lubumbashi—and with professors, activists, politicians, and many people from both Congo and overseas who are working to improve the lives of Congolese. They presented their proposals for new school systems to Moise Katumbi, the progressive-minded governor of Katanga province, who responded enthusiastically.

The students were graciously welcomed everywhere they went, and they benefited from the enormous efforts and assistance of many, including Noella’s family, Serge Kanyonga, a community organizer who contributed his expert linguistic and cultural translations, and Serge Mukanya and Jean-Marie Kanda Ntumba, young professors and passionate advocates of reform.

It remains to be seen whether any of the Columbia University students’ ideas will materialize in future projects in Congo. Their trip, however, has already left a permanent impact in the hearts and minds of those who experienced it. Ideas have changed, visions are fomenting, and friendships have been seeded. In March, the Columbia students will contribute their photographs and memories at the James Cohan Gallery and, on this side of the ocean, their testimonies will contribute to increased knowledge about and changing perceptions of Congo. In Congo, the energy and possibilities stirred by their visit will keep growing—first, as the walls of GMF’s school go up and then as the classrooms fill with a new generation of young women eager to make positive change manifest.

Comments are closed.