Equipping animal scientists to be agents of change in Rwanda
Feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population is one of the global challenges of the 21st century. Global food insecurity currently affects more than a billion people. Animal science—the study of domestic livestock care and breeding—plays an important role in meeting this challenge. It can help find innovative and efficient farming methods which are much needed in the face of land, water and energy scarcity, especially in developing countries.
Graduate student Onesphore Hakizimana’s project aims to create awareness among students, academics and professionals in the animal science field about the mutually enriching relationship between their discipline and Christianity. He will work with GBUR Rwanda, the IFES national movement, to lead a series of discussion groups, debates, and workshops on his university campus and will also develop a toolkit containing written materials and videos. All the project activities will combine scientific, theological and development perspectives with an African perspective on animals so that students and researchers are equipped to promote food security and fight poverty in Rwanda.
— Onesphore Hakizimana is a graduate student in animal sciences at the University of Rwanda.
Scientific and Christian perspectives on animist mining techniques in Cameroon
Science tells us that the distribution and location of mineral deposits is a function of geological processes that took place over millions of years ago. In contrast, in mineral-rich Cameroon, many artisanal miners hold occult beliefs about where minerals can be found. Artisanal miners are usually poor, disadvantaged individuals who use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamonds and other precious stones. It is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.
Animist beliefs are common among the miners, for example, the belief that there are ancestors who plead with the gods to open the earth for you so that you can find precious stones. Daily prayers and animal sacrifices are part of these practices.
These practices are a matter of debate among university researchers: some believe it is a cheap technique and that it is an “African science.” But the animist approach to mining has an environmental cost. Ecosystems are destroyed as miners move from site to site, following the will of the gods.
Geologist Isaac Daama will work with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a science, culture, and theology group for students and researchers. Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the group will promote dialogue among Christians and those who hold other beliefs about scientific and biblical perspectives on these controversial mining techniques.
— Isaac Daama recently completed a PhD in petrology and metallogeny at the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon.
Public engagement with a Christian approach to erosion control in the DRC
Soil erosion is one of the problems that accompanies Africa’s urban transition—the development of peri-urban areas where the city meets the countryside. Erosion leads to pollution, soil degradation, habitat loss and human property loss.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Johnny Ngunza will use his expertise as an architect, academic and founder of a local university to lead a project about the prevention and control of erosion in the city of Beni. During his pilot project research, Johnny found that GBU DRC, the IFES national movement, wants to help its students follow the biblical mandate to care for creation. But without practical programs in place, Christian students often don’t know where to start.
Johnny’s project will involve a demonstration project on his university campus, involving bioclimatic architecture (buildings designed for the local climate), anti-erosion construction techniques and fast-growing vegetation with strong roots. The goal is to enhance the soil, improve the quality of the space and raise awareness about innovative, low-cost, sustainable methods that could be adopted city-wide. Workshops, field trips and a conference will train students and local residents in these techniques. The trainings will also promote the Christian perspective on creation-care and foster engagement with theology and big environmental questions.
— Johnny Ngunza is an architect, working as a lecturer and researcher at a university he founded in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Empowering Senegalese students to be actors in their escape from poverty
Senegal is poor partly because of its reliance on agriculture, vulnerability to climate variations and failed development policies, but religious attitudes also play a role. Research conducted by economist Albertine Bayompe Kabou suggests that religious beliefs (Islamic, animist and Christian) have a significant influence on poverty in her nation, and can be an important lever in supporting people to be agents of change in their own exit from poverty.
University campuses are a microcosm of Senegal’s economic challenges. Albertine conducted a survey to determine the root causes of poverty among students. In terms of theological beliefs, 25 percent of students believed in the animist belief that one can’t escape poverty unless a curse is undone, 60 percent of students believed in the “theology of begging” (some traditional Islamic schools in Senegal encourage students to beg) and more than 50 percent of students believed in prosperity theology (faith will increase your wealth).
In collaboration with GBU Senegal, the IFES national movement, Albertine will organize a conference that will bring together biblical and social science perspectives on poverty. The goal is to help students understand the factors that perpetuate poverty, and equip students with ideas and strategies that will help them exercise their human agency in their own fight against poverty.
— Albertine Bayompe Kabou recently completed a PhD in economics at Cheikh Anta Diop University, the leading university in Francophone Africa.
The origin of humankind: interactions among scientific, biblical and African cultural perspectives
Understanding the origins of humankind and our place in the cosmos has been one of society’s big questions since ancient times. The debate about whether Christianity and biological evolution are compatible is well known but in Africa, there are also cultural perspectives on these big questions.
In Mali, the Dogon are an ethnic people group with their own languages, religious beliefs and knowledge about the cosmos. According to Dogon creation mythology, the god Ama created all matter in the universe. Today, some Dogon have become Christians or Muslims.
Working with GBEEM Mali, the IFES national movement, biologist Nou Poudiougo will conduct a research project that will improve our understanding of the origin of humankind from a biblical, scientific and cultural (Dogon) perspective. Nou’s study will explore the similarities, differences and interactions between these three areas of knowledge. The project includes a literature review and surveys of cosmologists, anthropologists, pastors and other professionals. A seminar with GBEEM students will gather Christian students’ perspectives on the origin of humankind and also equip them to engage in constructive dialogue on this topic. Nou will present his findings in a scholarly article.
— Nou Poudiougo is an assistant professor of ecology at Bamako University in Mali.
Promoting dialogue on theology and the sciences among students and researchers in Benin
Graduate student Faustin Dokui conducted a survey of graduate students, teachers, and staff – from various faith backgrounds – at his university and found that all respondents believed that science and religion are important topics that the academic life of the university must address.
Faustin will work with GBEEB Benin, the IFES national movement, to promote dialogue on theology and the sciences on his university campus. His project aims to encourage academics from all faith backgrounds to understand how theology and the sciences work together, and to equip Christian students and researchers to connect their Christian faith with their academic discipline.
The project includes five training sessions for students in the national movement, with material drawn from the Logos and Cosmos Initiative training curriculum. Alongside this, each small group bible study group on Faustin’s campus will be equipped to run regular multi-faith, science and theology dialogue events.
— Faustin Dokui is completing a doctorate in animal resource management at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin.
Harnessing science and theology to tackle student mental health in Côte D’Ivoire
In Côte D’Ivoire, there are many pressures that contribute to mental health problems among university students: poverty, unemployment, and the experience of having grown up with the violence and human rights violations that came after that nation’s 2011 political crisis. In addition, the diversity among the student population (socio-economic, ethnic and religious) has led to divisions between students that accentuate mental health challenges.
Mental health has taken its toll on students yet there is little awareness about it, according to the results of a pilot survey of students conducted by graduate student Nina Ble Toualy. She found that 80 percent of respondents had at least one symptom of a mental health disorder without realizing it. Many students admitted that they thought mental health disorders were about madness. Eighty percent of those surveyed could not afford to seek counselling and many had never considered it as an option.
Nina will collaborate with GBUCI Côte D’Ivoire, the IFES national movement, on a project with a three-fold purpose: to take stock of the mental health situation among students in her country; to raise awareness about mental health issues; and to highlight the complementarity between science and theology in addressing mental health challenges.
Nina will conduct a more in-depth survey of students and a study of the existing mental health care available, and document her findings in a scholarly article. For students in her university department, she will organize an awareness-raising conference about mental health as well as mental health screenings, counselling sessions and Bible studies. In the longer term, she may organize mental health awareness-raising workshops for leaders of local churches and Christian organizations.
— Nina Ble Toualy is a doctoral student in criminology at The University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Côte D’Ivoire.