In January 2023, Benediction Mulihavya Kahasa celebrated with her peers the launch of the academic year. Kahasa comes from Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. She learned about UCBC through her brother who attends the university and spoke highly of the institution’s values and commitment to excellence. She wanted to study in an environment that encouraged her faith and spiritual journey.
A second-year student studying electromechanical engineering in the UCBC Applied Science faculty, Kahasa describes herself as a “brave and ambitious woman.” “I have a vision to design an automatic hoe-planter since we live in communities that are predominantly agricultural. I think creating this will be a great contribution to my community,” she said.
As a woman, Kahasa is aware of the challenges and underestimation she faces in a field dominated by men and a society that remains steeped in patriarchy. In order to succeed as a student, Kahasa needs to wake up very early and go to bed late every day just to complete all her responsibilities at home and at school. “We do it this way so that we can achieve our goal of contributing something substantial to our society.”
“I would say to all women to be strong and determined despite the difficulties and especially not to be broken by words of discouragement coming from our environment because, through determination and commitment, we can succeed.”
“I came to understand that when God decides to bless you, no one can block what He has decided.” These words from Kavira Matofali Mélanie serve as a reminder of God’s sovereignty and grace.
Kavira is a student in the Electronic Engineering department of Applied Sciences at UCBC. As one of multiple children, Kavira knew that she wanted to continue her studies beyond the secondary level and attend university. However, with a brother and sister who were enrolled at universities, her father was not financially able to afford her school fees. Kavira did not let this obstacle prevent her from her goals, and after receiving encouragement from a UCBC staff member, she decided to enroll with money she had saved from working as a decorator. Thanks to support through the NEXT 500 Future Leaders of Congo campaign, a scholarship program that covers over 80% of tuition through U.S. donors, a mere $15 enabled her to enroll at UCBC. Then, because with the support of her sister and an additional scholarship she received from the university, Kavira has been able to continue receiving a transformative education
A woman with big goals, Kavira aspires to start a business in the future which will focus on repurposing recycled plastic to reduce the amount of plastic waste in Congo and the world. Not only has her time at UCBC provided the opportunity for her to learn, explore new areas of knowledge, and combine conventional knowledge with practical experience through internships and specific course offerings, it has also strengthened her on a personal level. “Through my time at UCBC, I have learned maturity. Through difficulties, I learned to act with wisdom. I also learned endurance and how to love. I learned who I am,” Kavria reflects.
UCBC holds a special place in Kavira’s heart and reflects the Kindom of God in profound ways. As an institution, one can see God’s provisions for His children through stories like Kavira’s. Kavira notes,“UCBC is like a family and we help each other with our problems, just as God helps each of us.”
We celebrate Kavira, her courage, her transformation, and we look forward to her graduation this year.
“Our lack of self-esteem.” This is what one former Women’s Voices leader, Asha Kisitu (‘19), says is the greatest obstacle to her women peers at UCBC seeking to grow in leadership and influence. Unjust structures, cultural norms, toxic masculinity, and outright oppression are not simply threats and obstacles to women’s achievement and flourishing, they have also resulted in an inferiority complex for many.
According to Asha, the lack of confidence and courage to take risks are the major factors holding today’s young educated women back from rising into decision-making roles. So how did she overcome this hurdle, becoming a leading voice on UCBC campus and now in her work with a major international medical NGO in Goma?
First of all, Asha overcame her fears. Working for an international organization was her dream, but she almost didn’t apply for available positions. As she approached graduation in 2019, she was overwhelmed with school requirements, discouraged by her lack of professional experience in project management, and lack of personal connections at these organizations to recommend her for such a role.
What she did have was a team of people supporting her at UCBC. The faculty in the economics department recommended her for several internships during her time as a student, which provided her with professional experience. Women’s Voices staff advisors coached her through the application process and encouraged her to apply for positions. Finally, a UCBC alum who now works in IT and volunteers in the Women’s Voices mentoring program, helped expand her computer skills.
But perhaps more important than professional development opportunities and skills, Asha gained a new mindset at UCBC. “I learned that failures are not something to be ashamed of, but to learn from,” she explained. That confidence and courage were modeled, not instructed. It made the difference for Asha, compelling her to take a risk. Now, less than a year after graduating from UCBC, she is succeeding in her role as a member of a monitoring and evaluation team that ensures excellent program delivery for her organization’s Ebola response and community development work.
UCBC is a community where young people, men, and women alike, are called to greatness. The entire CI community was founded by visionary leaders who took the risk of pursuing a dream of transformation in war-torn eastern Congo and invited young people to lead the movement. This movement has known setbacks and even failures. Students are not blind to this reality. But at UCBC, everyone is called to transform these challenges into opportunities.
The challenges emerging women leaders face are distinctive though. So at UCBC, special attention is given to encouraging women like Asha. When public speaking is intimidating, facilitators of academic presentations invite female students to ask questions and applaud them when they do. In a society where formal conferences are dominated by men, male staff and students enthusiastically support women at events like the annual Women’s Voices conference. And, when women staff and students organized an 8-month mentorship program to improve their skills and competencies for professional growth, the Rector himself handed out certificates of completion.
Not only do young women at UCBC receive this kind of support from staff and fellow students on campus, but the visible leadership of women is also inspiring and encouraging other women in the area. Two other institutions have also elected a female student body president, after the election of UCBC’s own Aimée Mapenzi. Our women’s basketball team won a highly attended local tournament and were congratulated by the Mayor of Beni. This growing movement of men and women celebrating women’s efforts and achievements in these spheres of influence is a testament to changing attitudes about what women can do and where they can lead.
Like the rest of the world, we are learning together about what gender equality means and how we all play a part in achieving it. For many women in Congo, just getting to study at a university seems like an impossible dream. But what we have learned at UCBC is that just providing education isn’t enough to support women’s equal access to jobs, influence, and achievement of their dreams. They also need to know that their community will support them enough to take risks required for growth. Both men and women are necessary to make this happen.
After graduating from secondary school and succeeding in the state exams, Anuarite Mathe Kahambu, set her sights on the next chapter in her education. However, with two older brothers still completing their studies, her father said she would have to wait a year. As farmers in the small town of Oicha, financially supporting one, let alone two children, was already a challenge.
Though Anuarite was disappointed, she knew her time would come. But she also knew if she could find a good, affordable university nearby, she could continue on her journey and dream to attend university sooner rather than later.
Then, one day she heard on the radio an advertisement for Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo in nearby Beni. She called the number provided and spoke with a UCBC staff member. She was inspired as the staff member explained UCBC’s philosophy – being transformed to transform, the community focus, Women’s Voices, and the desire to help students not only succeed in their studies but provide a space for spiritual formation.
And, thanks to your support of our NEXT 500 campaign, she was able to enroll at UCBC 2015. Throughout her studies, she learned and enjoyed many aspects of UCBC’s transformative education. But one word stood out from her educational experience – humility.
Anuarite explains, “Through UCBC, I learned that someone can receive a diploma but humility is the key to whatever you go on to do. I learned this from UCBC staff. I took this example of humility and incorporate it into my life and work today. I feel very hopeful that one day the vision of UCBC will be accomplished and I pray that God uses me to expand this vision. I want to be a source of blessings to many and to use my knowledge to help all those who are in need of my service.”
Anuarite graduated this past year with a degree in Computer Engineering and is now working as a database manager at EREST (Renewable Energy and Healthy Environment for All) in Beni. She believes that a better future Congo is possible through the next generation of leaders and wants to play a role in the areas of renewable energy and the environment. She recently visited UCBC on International Women’s Day and spoke on the importance of STEM education and women in sciences.
“I dream of a Congo in which youth are actors not observers. I want to be one of these actors and use my knowledge to help those in need.”
Sylvie Lukala has a message for the people of Congo. Well, really for the world.
“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.”