CULP – Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency
Week 1 – Democratic Republic of the Congo
Twenty-seven hours later we had finally touched down in Kinshasa, DRC. People who were eager to be back to their homeland immediately greeted us with the beautiful song and dance that had broken out throughout the plane. We stepped out into the night and were hit with a strong smell of burning trash, humidity, and dust. We quickly got our bags and headed to the waiting vans. As we drove through the city, we were in awe by how many people were everywhere.This was the start to week one, where we would be teaching English to both Congolese military, Congolese citizens, and Congolese children in elementary schools.
We got to work right away, beginning our week at CALI (Congolese American Language Institute), which is headed by the U.S. Embassy, and helps the Congolese locals learn English to further their education both in the Congo and in Europe. CALI teaches all levels of English language, and each of us were paired up and put into a classroom with students and a teacher. Throughout the blocks of class instruction we were given the opportunity to answer questions the students had about the United States and English. We were also able to practice our language skills and improve our French and Lingala.
The afternoons were dedicated to elementary schools throughout the city. We loaded into vans and set out into the city. This is when the real culture shock hit us all, as we drove down dirt roads where we were met with children, child soldiers, and poverty. At our first school we were met with the smell of stagnant water, and the sight of children drinking the water on the side of the road. As we entered the gates of the school, we noticed that parts of the building had been blown off, and that the school had no windows – just blown out holes.
In our classrooms we were greeted by bubbly children singing us the Congolese national anthem and practicing English numbers and letters. The kids were eager to listen to us speak English, as well as help teach us some basic French. After we had finished teaching in the classroom, we went outside to the main courtyard where the real chaos ensued.
The children had never seen blonde-haired people before, and were eager to run up and grab our hair. We had been warned about this, but actually experiencing their excitement was overwhelming. Gifting them with basic school supplies was simply not enough. These children were so eager to learn, and I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to spend the week with them, learning about where they come from and what they hope to accomplish in their lifetime. The Congo is filled with so much despair and hardship, however, every school we went to was filled with children who were just happy to learn new things and talk to new people.