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The Congolese connection at Utah State Eastern

By John Serfustini

While some friends and relatives of USU Eastern graduates drove or flew many miles to attend last Saturday’s commencement, about a dozen of them made a transAtlantic, transcontinental journey to be here.
They came to congratulate three students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had earned their diplomas.
Among those making the long trip was Lambert Mende Omalanga, the DRC’s Minister of Communications and Media.
During a conversation with the Sun Advocate on Friday, the minister explained that he was here to solidify the bonds that have been forming between his country and USU.
In the final years of his long political career, he wants to help his nation develop its pool of talent in technology, medicine and science. For that, he said, USU will provide the education and skills that graduates can take home “to help stabilize and modernize their country.”
One big investment now underway is a new university for science and technology in Lodja, right in the middle of the Congo. Mende said it is a way to enchance the opportunities for citizens in the rural parts of the nation, for whom it is not possible to commute to the Kinshasa metropolis.
Mende himself is a small town agriculturalist, and said that when he retires, he’s going to go back where he came from. Kinshasa, with 12 million people, is a bit crowded.
Meanwhile, the exchange students who come here have their own set of challenges. Armandine Matondo Mbungu, for example, spoke four languages when she arrived – French and three Congolese tongues – but English was not one of them. Nevertheless, she talked with the Sun Advocate in English and was honored Friday night as an outstanding student in family, consumer and human development.
She studied English at the Logan campus before coming to Eastern, and once here, she had plenty of help. Armandine credits adviser Liz Prettyman for guidance.
“I was encouraged by the chancellor [Joe Peterson]. He told me my English was good,” she said. “If he says that, then I must do it. I believe in myself.”
Armandine lives here with her five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. Her husband remains in the DRC.
She’ll stay on to earn her bachelor’s at USUE and then will head for home.
As if in reply to what Armandine said, Minister Mende Omalanga declared in his commencement remarks to graduates Saturday, “Now the work is yours. Go out, believe in you and your knowledge. The doors of the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain open to welcome you.”

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