New projects for 2023 – 2024
Researching the role of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture
Oral traditions are part of the African way of life but they’re particularly important in Burundi, where only 75 percent of the adult population is literate, and there is still a gender gap in literacy rates. Burundi has a rich oral tradition in which history, culture and life lessons are passed down through the generations through tales, fables, riddles, dances and music.
Laurent Kayogera’s project will investigate the contribution of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture in Burundi. His research will explore the advantages and limitations of how oral communication is used in order to extract lessons for the future, for improved communication in such areas as university teaching, churches and UGBB, the IFES national movement in Burundi.
Laurent’s study will involve conducting surveys among students and staff at the University of Burundi and a one-day workshop on the contribution of oral communication in scientific, theological and cultural training. He will also interview experts in culture and anthropology and representatives from organizations which seek to promote and preserve the Burundian language and culture. Finally, he will interview church leaders to explore how oral communication was used by missionaries during colonial times to share the gospel with Burundians and how pastors are trained today, particularly in rural areas with lower literacy levels. The results of the study will be published in a scholarly article.
— Laurent Kayogera holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and is the training coordinator for UGBB.
Learning from the Mousgoum people’s approach to ecology and construction
Finding more sustainable construction methods in the face of the global environmental crisis has never been more relevant. In Cameroon, traditional building methods using mud and straw have often been rejected in favour of “modern” methods using imported concrete. But graduate student Bernard Kola argues that the Mousgoum people’s dome-shaped mud huts could be an environmentally savvy model for Cameroon more broadly.
Soil is an abundant, affordable, locally available and renewable building material which helps regulate the temperature and humidity inside the building, leading to a more comfortable home and increased energy efficiency.
Bernard’s project will raise awareness about the advantages of these traditional construction methods and promote the idea of Christian creation care. He will conduct a research study to learn more about these building techniques. The results will then be shared in a series of workshops and conferences on his university campus, provoking dialogue about science, faith and culture.
— Bernard Kola is a PhD student in mechanics, materials and energy at the University of Manoua in Cameroon. He also works at a renewable energy research centre and volunteers with GBEEC, his IFES national movement.
Investigating the role of religion in the geography and development of central Benin
Religion affects people’s lifestyles, symbols and rhythms, which, in turn, are inscribed upon the landscape. Yet geographers have often paid little attention to the role of religion.
Christian geographer Camille Yabi says that in his home country of Benin, Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully, but little research has explored how religion has structured the territory. National development policies and strategies fail to mention the role of religion. In addition, Camille says that the way that black Africans were evangelized in the past has left them with a form of Christianity that is “ghettoized.” Christians are discouraged from engaging in dialogue between their faith and their environment and culture (including traditional African religions).
Camille will conduct a cultural geography research project at the intersection of faith and environment. Through fieldwork, literature reviews and archival research, he will explore how Christians have had an imprint on the design and development of space in central Benin. The area of study includes communities with many places of pilgrimage and Christian worship. Camille will be assisted in the research by a group of students from GBEEB, the IFES national movement, who will receive training in research ethics and methods.
The results will be shared with the scientific community, churches and the national movement through two public conferences, and will be developed into an article for a scientific journal.
— Camille Yabi is studying for a master’s in geography and environmental management. He is also an advisor to GBEEB and formerly served as General Secretary.
Making E-learning work for Francophone Africa: anthropological and theological reflections
Online and hybrid courses became mainstays of education across the world during the pandemic. And even before Covid, MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) had become popular in higher education. Despite e-learning’s advantages in terms of accessibility, flexibility and cost, educators are beginning to research its advantages and disadvantages, but so far these studies have only been in a western context. Few studies have examined e-learning in the African context. Those that have done so have focused only on the technical difficulties and not on the cultural and anthropological aspects.
Training expert David Mouandjo aims to find out how e-learning can be made to work effectively for French-speaking African students. He is interested in such questions as: how can e-learning be used for discipleship and character formation? How can e-learning take into account diverse learning styles? And how can e-learning be brought in line with African anthropological approaches to training?
David will conduct a research study which will provide an anthropological and theological reflection on e-learning within GBUAF, the IFES Francophone Africa region which includes 24 national student movements.
His study will involve theoretical research as well as an evaluation and review of IFES’ existing online courses in the region, including interviews and surveys with instructors and participants. The findings will inform the production of guidelines which will be shared with regional and national leaders. The results will also be applied to IFES’ French-speaking Engaging the University course.
— David Mouandjo is the national manager for training, leadership development and scripture interaction for GBEEC, the IFES national movement in Cameroon. He is also studying for a PhD in theology.
Psychosocial and theological approaches to the mental health of students traumatized by war
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has experienced decades of conflict and violence since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Today, fighting continues among more than 100 armed groups in the east of the country where United Nations forces are struggling to keep the peace.
Catalyst Sarah Obotela estimates that more than 80 percent of the population is impacted by the conflict, either directly or indirectly. Many have migrated to more stable areas of the country but are left with the scars of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Through interviews and surveys, Sarah will conduct a research study investigating how the trauma of war has affected the mental health of students in her city, Kisangani. The city has been a hub of higher education and research since the 1950s, but experienced violence from 1960 until the early 2000s. Her study will include such issues as gender differences and intergenerational trauma.
Affected students will be offered a listening session with a psychologist and will also be invited to a debate for victims and their families to discuss the issues and challenges around coping and integrating into society. Sarah will publish her results in a scientific journal article and will also organize a conference with African experts in conflict, psychiatry and sociology. At the national level, her findings are expected to help the national movement to minister to students in a more holistic way.
— Sarah Obotela is studying for a master’s degree in sociology, works as an assistant to a sociology lecturer and works part-time for her IFES national movement.
Climate change and biodiversity: understanding perceptions, promoting creation care
Climate change induced by human activity is now a global reality, recognized by the vast majority of scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One of the major consequences of climate change is the loss of biodiversity. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), climate change is a threat to almost one fifth of species that are under threat of extinction and are included on the IUCN’s “Red List.”. Biodiversity is currently being lost at a rate 1,000 times the natural rate (UNESCO).
Christian ecologist Dr Sambo Ouedraogo says that in Africa, it’s not just scientists and politicians that have a key role to play in tackling climate change: culture and religion are also important forces to be considered. He believes many Christians need to understand that their faith is rooted in the earth and that Christians can honour God by valuing and preserving creation.
The goal of Sambo’s project is to promote a Christian approach to creation care. He will conduct a study, surveying leaders of churches, Christian organizations and UGBB, the IFES national movement, to understand more about Christian values and attitudes towards climate change and biodiversity conservation. He will work with a master’s student and several undergraduates who will receive training in theology and science. He will publish his findings in a scientific journal article.
Finally, Sambo will promote Christian approaches to creation care by organizing a national conference on this topic, in partnership with UGBB, and publishing a best practice guide.
— Dr Sambo Ouedraogo recently completed a PhD in plant biology and ecology and is now a teacher-researcher at the Norbert Zongo University in Burkina Faso. He also serves on the board of directors of his national movement.
Expanded projects continuing from last year (2022 – 2023)
Christian and scientific perspectives on controversial 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 traditional African religious beliefs about where minerals can be found. Their practices involve animal sacrifices and prayers to plead with the gods to open up the earth for them. 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.
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 this approach to mining has an environmental cost: ecosystems are destroyed as miners move from site to site, following the will of the gods.
In partnership with GBEEC, the IFES national movement, geologist Dr Isaac Daama is leading a project that draws together scientific and Christian perspectives on these controversial mining techniques.
In 2022-2023, Isaac interviewed artisanal miners as part of his fieldwork for this project. His research informed his series of lectures, workshops and discussions at his university campus to promote dialogue about these traditional methods.
In 2023 – 2024, Isaac is continuing his research by interviewing miners and university-training geologists about their beliefs about these mining practices. He will publish his findings in a journal article. Isaac and his team will also conduct a campaign to raise miners’ awareness of the risks of their work to their health and the natural environment. At his university, Isaac will host a training course to equip students in science-theology dialogue and will organize two discussion workshops to encourage students and researchers to have a balanced and respectful view of the traditional African beliefs they have grown up with whilst also recognizing their limitations.
— Dr Isaac Daama is assistant professor of geology and mining at the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon.
Watch a 3-minute video about Isaac’s project from 2022:
Architecture, culture and creation: landscape recomposition strategies for habitat improvement
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) in 2022 – 2023, Johnny Ngunza used his expertise as an architect, academic and founder of a local university to lead a project to prevent and control of erosion in the city of Beni. In partnership with GBU, his IFES national movement, Johnny mobilized students and residents to implement anti-erosion techniques, inspired by the Christian call to creation care.
The project trained 20 student volunteers who transformed a demonstration plot on Johnny’s university campus. They built retaining walls, landscaped the plot and planted cash crops, such as vanilla and cabbage, that stabilized the soil and provided a source of income for the volunteers and for the future of the project. Through community outreach events, these low-cost, sustainable erosion-control methods were shared with residents and civic leaders.
While working with local residents, Johnny discovered that their most pressing priority was poverty and lack of food. So, in 2023 – 2024, he has shifted his project’s focus to food security. In an effort to take the university out into rural communities, the project will mobilize students from the national movement to provide agronomy trainings to help residents develop small gardens outside their homes that will both prevent erosion and increase the quality and quantity of their food supply. This is crucial in this unsecure environment in which it is often not safe for residents to travel to their fields far from their homes.
Johnny will also host workshops at his university to promote dialogue on science, Christianity and culture and will write an article for a theology journal about how these three perspectives relate to the issue of landscape development.
— Johnny Ngunza is an architect, working as a lecturer and researcher at a university he founded in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Watch a 3-minute video about Johnny’s project from 2022:
Empowering students to escape from poverty through entrepreneurship
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 Dr Albertine Bayompe Kabou suggests that religious beliefs (Islamic, animist and Christian) have a significant influence on students’ mindset and actions related to poverty and can be an important lever in supporting people to be agents of change in their own exit from poverty.
Albertine is working with GBU Senegal, the IFES national movement, on a project which is empowering students to be actors in their own escape from poverty.
In 2022 – 2023, she organized a conference in which students learned about the environmental, social, economic and religious factors that perpetuate student poverty and discussed strategies for their own fight against poverty.
Based on her expertise in economics and her own personal experience, Albertine believes that entrepreneurship is a key tool in fighting poverty and preparing students for life after university. Throughout her own student career, Albertine was involved in entrepreneurial activities including beekeeping and market gardening. Yet many university students mock those who get involved in such activities and believe that work that isn’t office-based is only for the less educated.
In 2023 – 2024, Albertine’s project will seek to change attitudes about student entrepreneurship and empower students to use their God-given talents and training through entrepreneurship. She will conduct a study investigating the role of religious education in inspiring entrepreneurship and exploring which models of entrepreneurship are best suited for students who need to balance this work with their studies. She will coach a group of students in entrepreneurship. Lastly, she will share the results of her study with students in a conference at her university.
— Dr Albertine Bayompe Kabou holds a PhD in economics and is a university lecturer in Senegal.
Watch a 2-minute video about Albertine’s project from 2022:
Harnessing science and theology to tackle student mental health
In Côte D’Ivoire, there are many pressures that contribute to mental health problems among university students: poverty, unemployment, experiences of violence and human rights violations during the nation’s 2011 political crisis; and divisions among students due to socio-economic, ethnic and religious differences.
Mental health has taken its toll on students yet there is little awareness about it. In 2022, graduate student Nina Ble Toualy conducted a pilot survey of students and found that 80 percent of them had at least one symptom of a mental health struggle without realizing it.
Nina is collaborating with GBUCI, the IFES movement in Côte d’Ivoire, on a project that draws together biblical and scientific perspectives to promote good mental health among students at her university.
In 2022 – 2023, Nina conducted a study to better understand the situation; organized awareness-raising seminars and a conference for students and churches; and partnered with mental health NGOs to provide free counselling and mental health support to students. Alongside this professional support, Nina trained Christian students to provide peer support and equipped volunteers to lead Bible studies and debates about mental health.
In 2023 – 2024, Nina is continuing her project and is collaborating with two other LCI Catalysts: Eustache Hounyèmè and Geneviève Guei. This year’s activities include a study on anxiety and depression, exploring how genetic and environmental factors contribute to these conditions. The findings will be developed into a scientific article. Nina and her collaborators will work with professionals and students to provide free mental health support that takes into account the African and university cultural context and helps students build resilience. Lastly, she will organize a conference in which the national movement and university authorities and groups can explore how to create a culture of prevention.
— Nina Ble Toualy is a doctoral student in criminology at The University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Côte D’Ivoire. She is collaborating on the project with Tier Two Catalysts: Eustache Hounyèmè, a PhD student in genetics and molecular biology and Geneviève Guei, a PhD student in Conflict and Peace Management.
Watch a 3-minute video about Nina’s project from 2022:
Concluded projects from 2022 – 2023
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 aimed to create awareness among students, academics and professionals in the animal science field about the mutually enriching relationship between their discipline and Christianity. He worked with GBUR Rwanda, the IFES national movement, to lead a series of discussion groups, debates, and workshops on his university campus and developed a toolkit containing written materials and videos. All the project activities combined scientific, theological and development perspectives with an African perspective on animals in order to equip students and researchers to promote food security and fight poverty in Rwanda.
— Onesphore Hakizimana is a graduate student in animal sciences at the University of Rwanda.
Watch a 3-minute video about Onesphore’s project from 2022:
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 to understand what common questions they have about how religious and scientific fields interact.
Building on his findings, Faustin worked with GBEEB Benin, the IFES national movement, to train students on Benin’s university campuses as dialogue leaders in theology and the sciences. The training explored the value of university studies and the specific contributions of each discipline from a Christian theological perspective,
The project included five training sessions for students in the national movement, with material drawn from the Logos and Cosmos Initiative training curriculum. Alongside this, Faustin developed materials to equip each small group bible study group on his campus to run regular bible studies about science and theology.
— Faustin Dokui recently completed a doctorate in animal resource management at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin.
Watch a 3-minute video about Faustin’s project from 2022:
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 conducted a research project that helped improve our understanding of the origin of humankind from biblical, scientific and cultural (Dogon) perspectives. Nou’s study explored the similarities, differences and interactions between these three areas of knowledge. The project included a literature review and surveys of cosmologists, anthropologists, pastors and other professionals. A seminar with GBEEM students gathered Christian students’ perspectives on the origin of humankind and also equipped 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.
Watch a 3-minute video about Nou’s project from 2022: