|Commentary: Investing in life-sustaining education|
Cheryl A. Hemmerle (fourth from right) and others on the
technology assessment team join members of the United Methodist North
Katanga Conference in Kamina, Democratic Republic of Congo. A UMNS photo
courtesy of Martin Dwomoh-Tweneboah.
A UMNS Commentary
By Cheryl A. Hemmerle*
Nov. 8, 2007
Cheryl A. Hemmerle
What good could possibly come from spending hundreds of thousands of
dollars to provide computer equipment and Internet access to
impoverished villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
On the surface, the investment may appear inappropriate, impractical
and a lavish gift for people who struggle to maintain a basic existence
in a war-torn country of Africa. At its core, however, reliable computer
equipment and Internet access can deliver live-saving information,
education and networking to alleviate isolation and eliminate poverty,
disease and illiteracy.
The United Methodist Church is planning to provide the people of the
Congo with vital communications equipment, tools and education through
the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development. The
project is under development through a multi-continent partnership with
the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, United
Methodist Communications, Africa University, Methodist University of São
Paulo in Brazil and the North Katanga, Central Congo and South Congo
In July, I was privileged to be part of a four-member team that
traveled to the Congo to conduct technology assessments at four
locations throughout the central African country.
Three of the locations — Kinshasa, Lumbumbashi and Kamina — have
received basic computer and Internet resources through partnerships with
U.S. annual conferences and United Methodist Communications to
establish communications centers in those African episcopal areas. The
fourth, Katanga Methodist University in Mulungwishi, has a computer lab
with Internet access and onsite technical support. All are eager to
expand communications resources to conduct distance education for
agriculture, health and literacy through courses offered by Africa
University in Zimbabwe and its partnership with the Methodist University
of São Paulo.
In Kamina, undergraduate and graduate students enjoy a facility
dedicated to education but lack the necessary computer equipment and
Internet access to benefit from online learning. The cost savings of
distance education makes it possible for students to remain in their
villages and apply their learning immediately to address the
agricultural, health and literacy needs of the people.
The Kamina location includes a residential facility and farm with
livestock and water for irrigation and drinking. Former graduates of
Africa University have returned to Kamina to share their knowledge and
skills with their village and to develop sustainable agriculture. They
would be able to expand their impact by offering an on-site distance
Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo welcomes Ken Yamada of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
In Mulungwishi, the spouses of seminarians are trained in health
care, basic first aid, HIV/AIDS prevention and literacy. They are often
the only resource available in a village to provide basic health
services or education and offer a more holistic approach to ministry in
partnership with their clergy spouses. The training they receive at the
seminary and via distance education will equip them to address health
and education needs in remote villages throughout the Congo.
In Kinshasa, distance education would enable Patrice Emery Lumumba
Methodist University to offer classes again after being destroyed by the
war. While its campus is rebuilt, the university could connect with
courses being taught at Africa University and engage students via
distance education. Situating the distance education center in
cooperation with the Central Congo annual conference office in Kinshasa
would expand the university’s reach and accessibility. And, students
could use the conference’s radio broadcast tower and license to
disseminate vital, life-saving information to surrounding communities.
What good could possibly come from such an investment in hardware,
software and training in Africa? Through this multi-continent
partnership, the Congo can be equipped to deliver distance education
that is accessible, affordable and life-sustaining in the most populous
and remote areas of the continent. As United Methodists, we share in
this exciting partnership and actively participate in bringing
education, information and essential communications tools to the people
of the Congo.
*Hemmerle is technical specialist for the communications resourcing team at United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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