Faustin N'Tala, a French teacher and soccer coach at the International School
of Indiana, arrived on June 21 in
Lubumbashi — a city of 4 million people, the second-largest in the Democratic
Republic of Congo — he found the city on high alert.
secessionist rebels were threatening the city. Not a great time for tourists to
visit, but for N'Tala, the potential for chaos and violence only served to
underscore his determination to continue his grassroots work to empower the
people of the DRC through the educational outreach and support activities of
his WAZA Alliance for Quality Education.
can't visualize landing in a country where you are on high alert —
machine guns everywhere," N'Tala said in a recent interview. "It
doesn't take a huge fire — it takes a spark. You hope nobody is going to
pull the trigger by accident because everybody else will think it's the
beginning of the game.
is an environment where everything is OK until something happens."
summer's uprising in Lubumbashi, which relates to the desire of some members of
the Katanga Province to stop exporting the profits of their area's natural
resources, is a separate issue from the long-running clashes between the DRC
military and various rebel groups associated with neighboring countries along
the eastern border, including Rwanda and Uganda. Along the border, a United
Nations peacekeeping force is engaged in helping the DRC and diplomats are
currently pursuing disarmament of negative forces that include the M23 and the
FDLR, a Hutu militia. The UN estimates the fighting has displaced more than
100,000 people in the past year, "exacerbating an ongoing humanitarian
crisis in the region which includes 2.6 million internally displaced people and
6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid."
DR Congo's population is almost 70 million. Its land mass is about 900,000
square miles — about the size of the continental U.S. east of the
Mississippi. The people speak 250 languages, add in regional dialects and that
number exceeds 400. French is "the language of education," N'Tala
said. In urban areas, which are subject to frequent and unpredictable power
outages, television provides some exposure to the language, but in rural areas
do not have such access.
average age in the DRC is 16.
hundred-and-fifty-thousand teachers walk to school — and they are
followed by close to 20 million students every day," N'Tala said. "If
we could train these 250,000 teachers to be good citizens ,
we can have an impact more than 20 million people and turn around the state of
people are easier for political and military interests to control, he
I'm doing can be dangerous," N'Tala said. "When people begin to
think, that's not a good thing."
came to the U.S. in 1998 to study at the University of Indianapolis. When he
finished his undergraduate degree in education he began teaching at the
International School of Indiana. At that time, his country was entering into a
conflict, sometimes called the African World War, which killed an estimated 6
million people as the troubled legacy of the Rwandan genocide spilled across
the border and intermingled with local politics and business. For the safety of
his family, N'Tala opted to stay in Indiana, but the desire to help improve
conditions in his homeland led him in 2008 to found the WAZA Alliance.
mission: To improve the quality of life for the children of DRC by improving
the quality of their education.
vision: That each child has access to a quality education in a school that has
qualified teachers and plenty of resources.
at elementary schools are often not qualified to do their jobs, N'Tala said,
noting that most do not have more than a high school education. Those with
advanced degrees work for private companies; the chemistry lab at the mining
company pays "literally 1,000 times more" than teachers earn.
concern is that in the midst of all this, the big loser is the learner," N'Tala
said. "The learner is not getting basic fundamental skills they need in
literacy, reading, writing and math. They do not get a competitive advantage
when it comes to employment in the country — they cannot beat
international candidates — even for jobs like welding, carpentry and masonry."
training is a major focus for WAZA. In 2008, its pilot project in teacher
training hosted 71 teachers (organizers had planned for 50). This summer marked
the sixth annual series of teacher trainings. The group reached 260 teachers in
Lubumbashi, Kambove, Kolwezi and Kapolowe-Gare, a rural area about 100 miles
discussing classroom protocols and the pitfalls of bribing students and their
parents to supplement insufficient incomes, N'Tala pushes questions such as, "Why
do we die so young?"
country's life expectancy is 56 years — and the country has the world's
12th highest infant mortality rate. N'Tala's father died at 59, his mother at
48. He hopes that as teachers begin to learn home economics, family planning
and volunteerism, they can begin to effect positive change in their communities
— and for the country overall.
than 1,000 teachers have taken WAZA training.
10 percent understand the value – that education is the greatest
investment for new generation of Congolese, then I'll say it is successful,"
N'Tala said. "You don't have to be president of the republic or a minister
— you just have to be where you are in your classroom
and you can spark a new generation of leaders right there."
addition, WAZA raises money to support students through their primary
education. For each $300 raised, the group can pay for a year's tuition and all
necessary books and supplies. A family of six, on average lives on about $360 a
year, so the $25 monthly tuition often leads to debt-fueled drop-outs, N'Tala
said. WAZA identifies students facing such circumstances, pays their debt and
allows them to continue their studies.
is now sponsoring 28 students, 15 in rural areas and 13 in the city. The first
group, which began as 8-year-old second and third graders, is now in secondary
school at age 13.
summer's visit also included a vision-screening component thanks to the
leadership of Gordon Mendenhall, a retired University of Indianapolis
professor, and two volunteer medical doctors from the DRC. The group screened
437 students and teachers over four days. A quarter of those tested need
— and received — glasses.
ongoing WAZA initiatives include administrator training and improving access to
and production of children's literature.
might not survive because of the local education of the community as a whole,"
N'Tala said. "Education can get people of the Congo out of turmoil and
economic crisis – it's used as a tool for survival."
Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, the reporter must
acknowledge that she is friends with N'Tala and
frequently coaches soccer with and against him.