“I do not want to see them underestimate women. We need to trust women at school or in different environments they work. I want to say to women and girls never to be underestimated in life, because all people have their potential…their qualities, and are able to do something. If not to say a word, maybe to dance, if it is not to dance, maybe to walk well.”
As the new secretary of Women’s Voices, Lukala is passionate about lifting up women and encouraging them to pursue their dreams. And, she has a dream of her own – to one day start a fashion business that provides employment opportunities for women.
“Fashion is a passion for me. Even from a young age, my parents told me I was too into clothing and dress up too much,” she said with a laugh.
Born in Bukavu, her family arrived in Beni because of her father’s work with the international organization, Oxfam. In her family of 11 (6 sisters and 4 brothers), education was always encouraged and prioritized. Though Lukala is not the first to attend a university, she believes UCBC is different and provides a unique opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve her goals and dreams.
“For my future life I have goals, but before UCBC I did not know how I can make them concrete. But now, I understand that we must not only have dreams, but we must also know how to accomplish them. Once we limit ourselves only to dreaming and not to accomplishing, we risk dreaming forever while not accomplishing anything,” she explained.
Lukala is aware that throughout society in general, but also at other universities, women face an uphill battle when it comes to achieving their dreams. This is why UCBC plays an important role in her life and why the student-led group, Women’s Voices, continues to act as a foundational support.
“Other universities tend to reject a woman’s opinion and underestimate her. You also do not see a lot of women staff or faculty members. But, here at UCBC, this is not the case. UCBC offers a space where women have opportunities to get positions. We can even notice it by seeing women in the offices and in the classroom,” she said.
One of these staff members is UCBC alumna, Adelphine Angemito(13’), now serves as the Human Resource Officer for Congo Initiative. Angemito played a key role in establishing Women’s Voices and continues to mentor student leaders as they continue to promote gender equality. Lukala found her footing through Angemito’s mentorship and the group.
“Mrs. Adelphine Angemito taught us a lot just by the way she carries herself professionally and encourages other women to dream and to go after those dreams. Before being a part of the Women’s Voices group, I did not know that I had leadership qualities in me. Women’s Voices helped me discover who I am, where I belong, and what is possible to achieve as a woman,” Lukala said.
But, Angemito shares her own admiration and appreciation for Lukala.
“Since she arrived at UCBC, she dedicated herself to serving the group and enhancing its communication. She even dreams of starting a Women’s Voices print magazine, radio broadcast, and web presence. She is a great leader who is committed to expanding Women’s Voices presence in the community,” she said.
Following the footsteps of past leaders like Angemito, Lukala finds strength in faith and calls for unity and collaboration when it comes to promoting equality.
“Every woman is called to discover first who she is and what she can do. She can discover her identity in Christ as a model, trusting in herself, and being the one to define her life. For men and women in my family and in the community, I want them to live in unity, and men to accompany and trust women to accomplish something good.”
Holding a tightly packaged bag of banana powder, Baraka Merdi (’16) stands proudly in front of his Mavuno office. There is only one other organization or institution in Beni that brings the same amount of joy and pride as his current place of employment.
“I discovered myself at UCBC,” he said with a smile. “UCBC encouraged me to become a leader. I know now what I can achieve.”
UCBC was not simply about an education for Baraka. It was an opportunity to discover how he could contribute to the future of his country – a country the world often ignores. As president of the student body, he helped lead others to reimagine Congo and to think of themselves as future leaders who can “be the change” wherever their journey may take them.
Now Baraka carries the transformational spirit gained from UCBC into his current work with Mavuno, an organization that empowers local farmers and works to end extreme poverty.
As a research and market analyst, Baraka helps local farmers and partners flourish in agribusiness.
“Our purpose is to end extreme poverty in eastern DRC. We try to link farmers to the market, and we are building businesses around agriculture crops like maize, rice, plantain, and selling at a good price so that farmers may increase their profit from their work,” Baraka explained.
“I am hopeful. I am seeing our clients’ lives improving, especially in rural areas, because we are training them to create their own business. We are trying to bring them out of interdependence to independence. Some of them are succeeding and this gives me hope…I am really encouraged!”
Baraka Merdi studied finance and accounting at UCBC and graduated in 2016. He believes his experience and studies offered something beyond the benefits of securing a job and livelihood.
“I want my family to see we are creating a new generation in Congo and that UCBC taught us about transforming the world. I want to be part of that big vision and I want my family to be proud of me for being one of the people who will change this country,” he said.
On a practical level, UCBC’s bilingualism and computer training prepared Baraka for his job working with a global organization dependent on crossing language and technology barriers.
“UCBC prepared me to engage globally in the workplace. I currently work not only with Congolese, but with people from other countries and cultures both in and outside of Africa. English helps me to cross language barriers in my professional work, and I cannot spend one day without using a computer. These skills I learned at UCBC.”
One of the greatest lessons he learned at UCBC was to face challenges and to turn them into opportunities. For him, that has meant diligent work, holistic learning, and a new mindset. He believes UCBC foster these values.
Baraka explains, “UCBC is important because Congo needs a new generation who is formed and trained with the new mindset at UCBC. The training there is one of the weapons that this country can use to face all the challenges. There are faculty and students that our country needs. If I can give one message to Congolese youth, it is UCBC is the place to go and learn how to transform the world!”
UCBC agribusiness student Hekima Kalumni played a key role in organizing the 2018 Women’s Voices conference centered on the theme, “Invest in the Transformational Leadership of Women.” Her extraordinary leadership encourages other female students to be bold in their educational pursuits and to recognize their strength as leaders, even if the world around them tries to tell them otherwise. For students like Kalumni, waiting on the world to change is not an option. Surrounded by a supportive community like Women’s Voices, she and other women in Congo know now is the time to discover their identity as leaders.
However, Hekima did not always have this confidence. Before coming to UCBC, she had “low self-esteem” and did not recognize her qualities and strengths. In her first year, Hekima began to recognize her potential as well as her role in leading transformation in Congo. She grew passionate about agribusiness and now wants to encourage others to pursue agricultural entrepreneurship. She witnessed older female students become leaders at UCBC, and eventually as alumni working in the wider community. And now, not only is she serving as a role model to younger students but as the second child of nine and the oldest daughter, Hekima is setting the stage for generations to come by attending a university and becoming a transformational leader.
“I have visions [for the future of Congo]. My long-term vision is to work towards the development of my country. My short-term vision is to encourage youth to be involved in agriculture entrepreneurship. I want to motivate farmers and create opportunities for them so they can sell their products,” Hekima explained.
In her first few years at UCBC, Hekima learned the important role women can play in leading agribusiness initiatives. She recognizes that “women have potential in various domains. But, in agriculture, UN studies show that with the same technological, financial, agriculture material conditions, women are 30% more productive than men. UNESCO has also shown that for an educated woman, her child has a 50% chance live beyond 5 years.”
For these reasons, investing in women’s education and agribusiness is critical for improving the livelihoods of women, children, and men in Congo. The good news, Hekima shared, is that “investment in women has already started; we can see it here at UCBC! I am among those who were selected for an agribusiness scholarship for women. For those who received this scholarship, it is time that we need to work hard and show people our potential.”
Meet one of the future leaders of Congo, David Kasereka Bakwanamaha. Unlike many UCBC students, David is not the first in his family to attend a university. Education has played a critical role for his family, providing the means to become independent and secure a livelihood. But he is the first to attend a unique university like l’Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC). And to him, that matters.
“Transformation and community life make UCBC unique. UCBC is making a big impact in Congo, changing the mentality and a [negative] way of seeing things. I know after four years when I have my diploma, I will be able to change and to do something. UCBC alumni are the ones who will be able to transform their communities and society,” David said.
When David discusses university life with his other siblings attending universities in Congo, they find clear differences. The effects of an education shaped by colonialism are still felt today at other universities and students often approach the learning environment and professors with fear. But at UCBC, it is different.
“For me, UCBC is the model university in Congo because the staff care about the development of students. They are serious about education while also being humble. Like a family, we can eat, share, work, and engage with staff in a way that is not seen at other universities.”
A first-year student studying counseling, David wants to help the community around him and create a better future for others.
“The reason I chose this department is because many people, including myself, live with trauma. I have traveled to various places in the country and I discover that many people suffer from trauma, but do not know where to get help.”
At UCBC, David is being equipped to serve others who are suffering from emotional and psychological wounds. One day, he hopes to work specifically with youth because he knows addressing their needs will help change the future of Congo.
“Being at UCBC is a good opportunity for my personal transformation, both intellectually and spiritually. For the first time, my eyes are opened to the value of being in such a community, sharing ideas that transform our minds.”