UW-P professor, Congo native shares her passions with River Ridge sixth grade

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By Correne Martin

The sixth graders at River Ridge School studied the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the end of the school year. To wrap up the unit, the students were treated to a visit by Dr. Annie Kinwa-Muzinga, a UW-Platteville professor of agribusiness who came to the United States from the DRC in 1990.

Dr. Annie, a friend of River Ridge sixth grade teacher Heidi Serres, discussed the acclimation she and her husband endured and the welcoming help they received in coming from Africa to the U.S. She also presented a slideshow about her home region and showed pictures of the Kivuvu Hope Farm she set up there in 2012, so young mothers can stay off the streets and instead cultivate food and care for themselves and their children.
Another topic Dr. Annie shared her passionate for is the fact that 80 percent of the coltan mineral used in powering many electronic devices, such as smartphones and video games, comes from dangerous mines in Congo.

Rich minerals a curse
“The area is rich in natural resources and it should be a blessing, but for Congo, it’s a curse,” she apprised the students.

So, Dr. Annie has taken it upon herself to spread the message that the Congolese, particularly the children, are suffering, and in some cases dying, toiling in terrible mining conditions so they can scrape through shovels-full of silt for just one kilo of precious coltan per day. This is the best way they’ve found to help their families live with less suffering. The children are paid $5 to $10 per month for what coltan they can collect and then the warlords profit by selling each kilo at $500 apiece on the black market, she said. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, Canon, Philips, etc., who purchase these minerals are fueling violence in the DRC.

“People are fighting; there’s raping and killing. There are millions of refugees,” Dr. Annie stated. “The President’s friends are profiting.”

She noted her realization that there is little users of these electronics can do because this issue lies with the big companies. However, there are a few suggestions she had: try not to buy a new cell phone every year; recycle old phones; and spread the word about the conflicts these minerals have caused.

“It’s an injustice not seen in the U.S. Nobody is talking about it; [my people] are left alone,” she said, encouraging consumers to complain and learn more at RaiseHopeforCongo.org.

Kivuvu Hope Farm started
While the men and young boys in Congo are at war and mining, the women are left to feed their kids. Unemployment is high and poverty is a reality for most. Seventy-five percent of those women and their young daughters are in agriculture, Dr. Annie said. Yet, others are in prostitution as a means of making money for their families.

“When you sleep at night and someone calls for $10 to take their child to the doctor, I can help them out. But I prefer to teach them ‘how to fish’ rather than ‘give them fish’ every day,” she explained.

It’s because of circumstances like those that Dr. Annie started her farm to empower women and help them survive hunger, malnutrition and poverty. On a trip to the DRC years back, she saw a 10-year-old girl, late at night, on the streets and wanted to get her out of prostitution. So she met with the girl and her mom to find out what she could do to help. The result was a 10-acre farm on 200 acres of land, six hours outside the capital city of Kinshasa.

There, 35 widows and 75 kids work, raising corn, cassava root, pineapple, peanuts, okra and red peppers. They have two cows, one calf, two goats and fish ponds. She pays them out-of-pocket to maintain the farm and the families are able to take home food from the farm as needed. Two of the women with bachelor’s degrees coordinate the farm and three take care of the children by helping them work, cook and eat.

“I wake up at 4 a.m. almost every day to talk to them and share with them my knowledge and encouragement,” she stated.

Next year, Dr. Annie is planning a visit and intends to teach the women how to make cheese. Currently, the women and children walk four to five miles per day to the farm six days per week, since there is no transportation, bikes or mopeds in that region. To alleviate this stress, Dr. Annie is in the process of raising funds to construct houses nearby for the families. She’s also teaming up with a Minnesota ministry that can create an orphanage and eventually a school there.

Students’ interest piqued
The River Ridge sixth graders who had the privilege of hearing Dr. Annie speak, of course, had many questions about her background and home country. They learned she speaks five languages—three native and French and English.

In Congo, she earned her bachelor’s in economics and was serving as a teaching assistant there. Because there was a focus on empowering women, Dr. Annie was selected to receive a scholarship to come to the U.S. and teach. So, in 1990, she enrolled in a three-month, intensive English-speaking program in Colorado. She, then, obtained her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois at Champagne. In 2002, UW-Platteville invited her to teach at the college and, after one year there, she said, she was hooked.

“My father was a teacher and he wanted all of his 10 kids to succeed and have the same opportunities as he had,” Dr. Annie concluded. “But, I did my part, which was hard work, to get where I am today.”

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