We are a group of volunteers that have been inspired by the amazing resilience of the Congolese people and the organizations that serve them directly. We started organizing and giving presentations in the spring of 2014, we officially registered as an nonprofit organization in the spring of 2015, and we became a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization in the fall of 2016. Our mission is to promote health, education, and peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). To that end we have given over 80 presentations on the context of the DRC, visited our partners in the DRC three times, held various fundraisers, and granted over $60,000 for projects in the DRC. If you would like to learn more, or know of a school/organization/social club/church/etc. where we could present about the DRC and our work, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How We Got Started
In January 2014, English teacher Liz Andress heard the remarkable life stories of students Pastor Kubisa Muzenende and Dr. Edwige Mubonzi. Just months earlier, they had been working as human rights activists in Congo, known to each other by reputation only. They left Congo, arrived in Minnesota months apart, and independently found their way to the Hubbs Center in St. Paul. Their chance meeting at Hubbs and encounter with teacher Liz Andress set the stage for amazing things to happen.
Deeply moved by their charisma and courage, Liz asked Pastor Kubisa and Dr. Edwige to speak at her church, Grace University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Peder Garnaas-Halvorson, a Grace member and recent St. Olaf graduate, served as the French translator for this talk. Awe and respect filled the room on April 13, 2014 as Pastor Kubisa spoke of his work providing vocational training and psychosocial support for former child soldiers and Dr. Edwige spoke of her work providing wholistic medical and surgical care to women victims of rape. People were profoundly affected by their message and were inspired to learn more.
Liz, Kubisa, Edwige and Peder scheduled dozens of speaking presentations in the following months. Those who heard the story invariably wanted to participate in the healing work of Pastor Kubisa and Dr. Edwige. As financial contributions increased, so too did the need for an accountable organization. Thus, in March of 2015, Mwendo Congo incorporated as a Minnesota non-profit dedicated to promoting community development in DRC through health work, education, and relationship building between the people of the U.S. and the DRC.
Mwendo Congo Board
Luke Jerviss is the Board Chair of Mwendo Congo and focused on advocacy for conflict-free initiatives. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in Asian Languages and Literatures and a minor in business management. He spent a year as an exchange student in China, studying Mandarin and tutoring English. Luke currently works on the sales team at the tech firm Siteimprove and also serves on the board of directors for Lutheran Campus Ministry-Twin Cities. Luke can be contacted by phone at 507-450-3604.
Elizabeth Andress visited the DRC for two weeks in August 2015 and serves as the secretary of the Mwendo Congo board of directors and is a cofounder of Mwendo Congo. Liz holds an M.A. in Education from the University of Minnesota. She worked for 15 years as an adult educator, teaching English and job skill classes serving a wide range of immigrant and refugee adults, and now consults statewide in adult education. She spent five years in Asia doing literacy and international solidarity work. She has held a variety of administrative positions in college-level international and experiential education. She has years of experience organizing for social change at local, national and international levels.
Keira Kim is the Mwendo Congo treasurer, she graduated from St. Olaf College in 2013 majoring in Economics and Asian Studies with minors in Finance and Mandarin Chinese. During college, she spent 8 months in China studying language, interning, and researching agriculture and economic conditions in the Loess Plateau. She currently is working at Best Buy Corporate in the Forecasting department helping to optimize inventory.
Peder Garnaas-Halvorson is a cofounder and board member at large for Mwendo Congo. He graduated from St. Olaf College with a degree in French and Psychology in 2012. He is currently pursuing a Master Degree in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Peder visited the eastern Congo in 2014 and 2016 to make connections with local initiatives such as Panzi Hospital, Let Africa Live, and Idjwi Initiative.
Other Leaders and Speakers
Pastor Kubisa Sosthene Muzenende is the founder of Let Africa Live (Laissez L'Afrique Vivre or "LAV" in French), a non-governmental organization providing job skills training and psycho-social support to victims of war. LAV programs address the needs of survivors of violence and sexual abuse and serve former child soldiers as they reintegrate into society. As a human rights advocate, Pastor Muzenende has spent time in Europe and in many African countries raising awareness and money for the needs of the DRC. International partners include the Rotary Clubs of Bromma, Sweden and Bukavu, DRC; Norwegian Church Aid; Cordaid Hollande; and Eastern Congo Initiative. Pastor Muzenende currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota, studying and seeking to develop U.S. partners for the work of LAV.
Dr. Edwige H. Mubonzi earned her medical doctorate in 2011 at the University Evangelical in Africa (U.E.A) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She graduated with honors. From 2011-2013 she worked in the OB-Gyn department at Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo with Nobel Peace nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege. During her two years at the Panzi Hospital, Dr. Mubonzi completed a fellowship in fistula repair surgery and was a member of the Mobile Clinic which traveled to outlying communities to find and treat women victims of rape. Since 2013, Dr. Mubonzi has lived in Minnesota where she is engaged in work to inform US citizens about the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to advocate for peaceful resolutions to the conflict. She is also preparing to take the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam to become a licensed physician in the United States.
Amy Chatelaine is Co-Chair of the Mwendo Congo Education Working Group. She graduated from St. Olaf College in 2012 with a B.A. in Biology and Women's Studies. She currently works at the Center for Victims of Torture as the Client Insurance Coordinator, and advocates for underserved populations in Minnesota as part of the MNsure Consumer and Small Employer Advisory Committee. In August of 2015, Amy visited the DRC for two weeks to meet with valued partners of Mwendo Congo's education and health initiatives. Current students and university faculty interested in engaging with the work of Mwendo Congo can contact Amy by email (email@example.com).
Steve Solbrack is a member of the Mwendo Congo Health Working Group. He traveled to the Eastern Congo for two weeks in August 2015 to meet with Mwendo Congo health and education partners. He graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with B.A. degrees in Accounting and Computer Science. He has many years of international and community service through Rotary and his faith community. Steve recently sold his business after over 11 years. He has been a business owner or business executive in information technology, Internet, data communications, and telecommunications for over 30 years.
Lisa Nilles is a physician and chaplain. She has worked as a pediatrician in the Twin Cities and as a chaplain at a senior living campus in St. Paul. She serves Mwendo Congo as a leader of the Health Working Group. She has not (yet!) traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but looks forward to the chance to go soon and meet the inspiring Congolese colleagues with whom she has been in communication for the past two years! Lisa loves to speak to faith and other groups about the challenges of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the hope found in our partnership with stunning Congolese individuals and organizations.
Mark Halvorson has worked as an organizer and social worker. In 2004 he founded Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, a non-partisan organization that advocates for accurate, transparent and verifiable elections. He co-chairs the Education Working Group for Mwendo Congo and hopes to travel to the DRC someday.