A crash course in changing the world.
I'm in my small four walled office trying to ignore the drip, dripping of rain water falling into the pan from the leaky corrugated iron roof. One of our students is working on putting up a rain water harvesting system for this tin shack soon, but resources are tight. I scowl- I feel bad for each drop that washes away soil that could be going into a thirsty mouth or root. I'm so proud of them! We took designs of rain water harvesting systems that we saw in villages during our cross visits with other villages and schools, analyzed the availability of certain necessary resources, innovated with what we had (since we lacked what other villages had access to), and put up the first model on a widow's home. Our students decided she should come first since she's an elder, she has done so much for the village, and she's caring for 9 young orphaned children. I smile thinking about it- such wonderful students.
In fact, the most rewarding part of my job are the service projects that youth in our vocational training programs are required to carry out. Vocational training in the program is free. But, students are required (as a way of paying for their training) to develop a service project through their three year training that will change their communities forever. The projects must follow these criteria: sustainability (the benefits must grow and sustain growth over time), innovation (with new ideas and local materials-maximize on what they've got), collaboration (with other community members, youth, and institutions), pass on skills and knowledge, and empower the most needy (as defined by the student class). The students can work in groups or individually, and usually they work in groups.
This vocational training center is the first of many in this region on the eastern side of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first student class named it Bee Hive in Kiswahili- because with time and patience, they argued, like bees they will make what no other being can make from the resources and tools around them, a sweet medicinal substance that will heal their village. As you can see, working with these youth has been the best experience of my life.
But let me back up- ever since I proposed to Reserved in 2011, a deep friend of mine and chief of a town near Kinshasa whom I met in 2009, that we start one village at a time building youth vocational training centers in the DRC magic has been occurring. I've been working in this village for the past 8 months finding artisans willing to learn more, farmers willing to innovate, and local leaders willing to make changes here there to improve the living standards of people at the "bottom of the pyramid" (BoP). It hasn't been easy but that's what's so exciting about it!
The Bee Hive is more than vocational training center because of it's constant outreach to the community. We've been stimulating a suffering farmers market, working with farmers to market their products, build up farming cooperatives, train leaders to find their inner potential, and most of all (the part I'm most excited about) training youth to adopt new skills, paradigms, and language that will help them get money in their pockets.
My kid is tugging at my pant leg- 6 now and wants to run to see the preparations for Musa's birthday. Musa's a poor farmer- at least he was. As the first, and most spirited I might add, student in our program here, he took up the skills we taught in our first session (calculating farming budgets, drawing up 3 season action plans for the farm, choosing the most optimal (price for value) tools and livestock, etc.) and went to work. He passed on the knowledge to his brothers and sisters. He formed a strong farming cooperative for chicken farmers (including his interested family members) so that they could negotiate market prices of eggs, chicken meat, and feed. Now he and 4 other farmers are bringing 2 trays of eggs minimum a day to the local market- that's 8 times the income they would normally be bringing in!
Today isn't a normal birthday. He and the community are holding a celebration in honor of his family and the farmers he's been working with to congratulate them on all their success. Of course, we've been cheering him on the wh*** time and helping him and the farmers out every way we can. But, they own this project. It's their life.
I'm glad the rain has stopped- my kid runs off out of the shack with a giggle. I simply would love to help, Alchemy, but I have to attend this celebration. It's important to Musa, and every one of our students- and to me! Here, let me tell you what. Here's the contact information for the project leaders of 5 of our best performing vocational training centers in Kisangani, Goma, and Ituri. Those youth right there- they can solve ANY problem. Those are your world leaders right there.
And, Please Alchemy, let me know if you need anything else.