The Nyantende Foundation

By Trilby Goouch
Blogs Editor

The Nyantende Foundation is a student-run club founded by Jon Skarsten, Comm ’13, Spencer Goodwin, ArtSci’13, and Aristide Burume, who the two met through their shared interest in the Congo crisis. The club developed with the goal of empowering youth and improving the conflict situation in Congo. QJBlogs caught up with Spencer to discuss the foundation and its goals for the future.

QJBlogs: What motivated you to create The Nyantende Foundation? Was this fuelled by a personal experience or particular influence?

A: Jon and I went to high school together. When we entered second-year we both wanted to get involved in some cause that would enable us to give back to the world that has privileged us with the lives we have.
The Nyantende Foundation began with a chance encounter between Jon and Aristide our third co-founder. Aristide is a resident of Kingston who fled with his family to Canada in 2005 as a result of the Second Congolese War. At the time, any disposable income he was earning he would send to the head of the parish in Nyantende to help with any pressing issues. The money would often go to putting orphans in school. For example, the foundation has developed a program in which supporters can pay $2.50/month to put a child in primary school and $8/month for secondary school.

QJBlogs: Why do you feel education should take priority in resolving conflict in Congo?

A: The conflict in Congo is a complex, systemic issue with a deep history. Nyantende Foundation focuses on education because, being at an academic institution ourselves, we see the role it has played in our lives. Being literate is an essential skill that many of these youth have never been taught. Giving youth the opportunity to learn about the world around them will empower them, thereby opening doors to employment and positive change in the community.

QJBlogs: What are your top three goals for the charity?

1. To get all those who cannot afford education into school programs.
2. Nyantende Foundation is in the process of developing a new initiative called the “Nyantende Project” that looks to improve the physical conditions of schools in the Nyantende area. Currently, there are entire classrooms, latrines, and other parts of the school that remain in states of total disrepair. One of the schools has 21 classrooms and only 13 are functional. We cannot continue to increase the number of youth enrolled if it will create overcrowded classrooms
3. Improving the quality of education by upgrading the materials used by principals, teachers, and students, in an effort to bridge the gap between First World and Third World education.

QJBlogs: How can people get involved? What can students do if they don’t have the funds to donate but want to make a difference?

A: The Nyantende community needs help from every direction, whether it’s clean water, funding, food or shelter. Many countries like Canada refuse to enter into the conflict zone of Eastern Congo, and this legacy of neglect has made justifying current intervention increasingly difficult. The best thing people can do is spread the word. We need direct connections, for example NGOs that are willing to collaborate on our projects or individuals who can have a significant impact on the ground. It may seem like we are being slightly exclusive, however we want to remain efficient and take baby steps here and overseas with our new project that is currently underway. If you are passionate about contributing to make a difference, stay informed on the crisis in Congo; it has never had the acknowledgement it deserves.

QJBlogs: You’re both in fourth-year and wrapping up your time at Queen’s. Where do you see yourself with this charity in five years?

A: We would like to maintain a presence at Queen’s. Congo is experiencing persistent conflict that needs constant attention. Our generation and ones to follow must remain aware of and engaged in this situation. By maintaining a presence at Queen’s we will be continuing to keep Canadian youth informed and active. Ideally, in five years we will have completed the Nyantende project, which would include completing repairs to all 33 of our schools and at least doubling our current enrolment number of 216 youth.

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