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!”
What did four years at l’Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC) mean for Juliette Kavugho Mali (’14)? The youngest of three girls, Juliette was the first one in her family to attend university. At UCBC, she found a community that encouraged a commitment to critical thinking, service, integrity, and equality.
In Juliette’s own words: “UCBC is encouraging women in education and preparing women to be leaders. We can see it throughout the community. Even though some places in Africa believe to educate a woman is to lose money and time. I say that is wrong! I know to educate a woman is to educate the whole nation.”
A native of Beni, Juliette witnessed students and alumni throughout the community making a positive impact on her hometown. After receiving notification she passed the state exam required to attend a university in Congo, she enrolled at UCBC in 2011.
As she reflects on her time at UCBC, she recalls the way it shaped her life. “It shaped my life intellectually and spiritually, transforming the way I see things. Before I felt hopeless and thought negatively about our situation, but UCBC taught me to think positively and to hope even in the face of challenges.”
Working and collaborating with her peers, she learned some very practical things that helped propel her into her job at RAW International Bank in Beni.
“I learned all my English at UCBC and today I am able to speak with different customers who are from different countries, some of them do not know French, but I am able to speak with them without any problem. I also learned computer skills at UCBC and now work on a computer without a problem.”
When asked about her favorite moments at UCBC, Juliette smiles widely as she proclaims, “Chapel Time!” She often felt God’s presence during the midday worship services and this encouraged her and the community.
The unique Christian identity of UCBC sets it apart from many universities in DR Congo. For one, corruption is often found in university settings. Bribes for good grades are common. Moreover, Juliette explained the significance of living in a community that valued students thoughts and contributions, providing them the opportunity to share as equals to leaders and staff, something that is uncommon elsewhere in Congo.
It is in this context and atmosphere where students learn the importance of servant leadership. And for Juliette, she believes it is this servant leadership that will transform Congo.
How did UCBC impact your personal life?
Steve: Before I came to UCBC, I took my spiritual life lightly. It was not a priority. The cohesion, the consideration, and above all the harmony, that existed between students and staff really stimulated my desire and determination to consider the way my faith inspires me to look towards the example of Jesus as a teacher. The example of servant leadership encouraged by Dr. David Kasali and Dr. Honoré Bunduki forged an identity and an example to follow even though difficult to imitate. But, our peer and mentoring groups helped me to open up to, and listen to others; a quality that I did not have beforehand.
Lastly, a motto we learned at UCBC, “Start Small, Start Where You Are, and Start Now,” has really revolutionized my life. It’s all about will, determination, and action. Combined with the unique triadic training [academics, work, and service], I have been inspired and carry this philosophy wherever I go.
What did you learn during your time as a student, and how has this continued to help even today?
Steve: During 4 years of training at UCBC, I learned 4 important principles:
- A leader is first an example to others, to those she or he leads. He or she must exhibit good qualities and be flexible and patient amidst mistakes.
- The importance and strength of the community.
- We can do great things if we want it. It all depends on your vision and your determination to reach it.
- We will never be quiet. Always start change where you are!
UCBC just celebrated its 10 year anniversary. What does this accomplishment mean and signify for UCBC?
Steve: From vision to change…10 years of existence of UCBC means that change in DRC is possible. If a vision in the forest of KIPRIANI [the quarter where UCBC is located] can rise a vision of change, therefore DRC can already have hope for a transformation.
Where do you see UCBC in 10 years?
Steve: In 10 years I see UCBC as a base for transformation and change in Congo.
Listen to UCBC alum, Amos Kambale Taluliva (’12), share about his work with youth in Congo that was inspired by his education at UCBC.