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Editor’s Note: On May 1, the Raise Hope for Congo campaign launched “I Am Congo,” a new video series highlighting voices from the ground. The series profiles five inspiring Congolese individuals—Fidel Bafilemba, Amani Matabaro, Denise Siwatula, Petna Ndaliko, and Dominique Bikaba—who are making a difference in their communities. Enough Said will be highlighting each video profile over the coming weeks.
It’s difficult to be the center of attention for a video profile like this—it certainly has made me reflect on where I have come, the path I have chosen, and the message that I feel is most important to share with the world.
I have lived in eastern Congo all my life, and currently reside in Goma with my wife and five children. Born the first out of 27 siblings, my parents separated early when I was only seven, and I had to quickly learn to become self-reliant. Growing up in a shanty town within Goma called Birere, I learned to bake breads by the time I was 14, wrapping them in plastic bags and selling them on Bierer’s busy streets, morning and night. Baking became my lifeline, and helped me pay for my own housing and education all the way through university.
At university, I studied linguistics and African culture—I now speak 12 languages fluently. Since university, I have moved on from baking bread to becoming a teacher, a church leader, a news presenter, a singer, a politician, a member of the AFDL, RCD, and Mai Mai rebel movements, and finally a humanitarian and devoted human rights activist.
During my time as a Mai Mai fighter, I saw people fighting over our native land and my fellow countrymen falling to gunfire. It made me realize how destructive this violence and blind-following really are—it just doesn’t work.
But that past is far behind me now, and today is a new day. My hope is that my children will grow up in a Congo that allows and even encourages every citizen to think independently—to challenge the status quo of taking up arms for power. To me, this video has provided an opportunity to convey the importance of a common denominator uniting all citizens of the world—one that leads to progress and one that eastern Congo largely lacks—an education system that promotes critical thinking.
The Congolese education system suffers greatly. Its core structure is over half a century old, based on Belgian colonial legacy limited to routine memorization. Over the years, the Congolese people have learned to follow blindly and methodically without questioning things or our leaders. We are unable to ask ourselves whether we are a true nation, unable to make up our minds for our own "Arab Spring" despite the ongoing crisis that has become the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
Revolutionizing the Congolese education system to emphasize the importance of critical thinking would provide the tools for young girls and boys, adult students, and parents to think on their own rather than simply internalizing what church leaders, rebel leaders, and politicians claim as truth. It would provide the tools for my people to read books, to become familiar with international languages, and to be more open to the outside world.
That is the message this video has provided me the opportunity to share. After showing the video to my family, my 13-year-old son told me:
If you can’t ever make that dream real, I will. Congo can’t survive all it has been going through if it can’t rely upon a true education system. And if Joseph Kabila can't instill that reform, Congolese can do it with the help of our friends.
And as I write this, my son’s words echo in my mind. Congo has been through much turmoil, and it continues today. Aid agencies have been pouring in billions of dollars to provide support for victims of violence in Congo, but there is a lot that could be done to help people challenge the status quo. Building centers for education based on critical thinking is the key to Congo’s future. My hope for my country is that we can learn to think critically about our surroundings so we can move forward toward peace and rebuilding a country that is stronger than ever.