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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 annual conferences.

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.

Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo welcomes Ken Yamada of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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 education center.

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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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