The second week in the Congo we were able to learn more about how the government works as well as how the military plays a role in the government of the Congo, and what still needs to be done in order to further improve the structure and organization of the FARDC.
This week began with quarantine in our hotel due to political unrest throughout the country. This was extremely fitting since this next week we were going to be working with the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Day 1 we went to the military school for English language, which aimed to help soldiers in the FARDC learn basic English. At the language school we got the opportunity to meet officers in the FARDC who had been given the opportunity to come to San Antonio to learn English at the Defense Language Institute. These gentlemen (no women were given the opportunity to go) spoke perfect English, and prided themselves on knowing various aspects of American culture that only a native would know. During our time at the English Institute we gave classes in basic Army doctrine in hopes of helping to improve the basic functions of the Congolese military. All of the soldiers of the FARDC were eager to learn about the functions of the U.S. Army, and took great pride in their country when we attempted to teach the class in French, their national language.
The next day we headed to the Logistics School of the FARDC, where soldiers learn basic skills including mechanics, field first aid and cooking. The U.S. Army heads this school, and we were able to meet two U.S. soldiers who had been deployed to the Congo for over a year in the hopes of ensuring this school functions properly. They gave us a tour of the grounds and introduced us to the staff and students of the school. The Congolese general in charge of this school proved to be a complete juxtaposition for how the rest of the country worked. While most of the log school was without power and had little airflow, the Generals quarters had air conditioning, a TV and cold drinks for his guests. This experience was the most eye-opening moment of the whole trip because the power structure of the country was highlighted and made very apparent.
Later in the week we were able to go outside of Kinshasa and into the rice fields that USAID, or the United States Agency for International Development, was heading. (Read more about USAID here.) We saw a rice project where local farmers are in charge of their own product. We were able to walk out into the rice fields and see the process of rice harvesting as well as how those who harvest live their daily lives. This area of the Congo was exceptionally poor, and all along the roads we were able to see people selling dried fish, cassava and coal. The people who headed the rice project from USAID noted that international companies and countries are making it extremely difficult for the local farmers to make a profit in rice harvesting since these countries essentially give excess rice to various African countries at an extremely cheap rate.