Congo Story Podcast #3

1 Feb

Thanks to everyone who attended Heart for Congo.  It was awesome!  

In this podcast we talk about how we were all blown away by the Wacongo Dance Company.


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Congo Story and The Camp Fund Video

3 Feb

Podcast #4 - Mbuzi and Music: A Congolese Dinner Party

8 Feb

Last Friday we were honored to serve as dinner hosts for some Congolese friends who live in Pittsburgh.  We discovered that the Wacongo Dance Company are good company, indeed; in this podcast I speak with two of the music, drumming, and dancing group's leading members, Anicet Mundundu and Elie Kihonia. 


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Congolese dining

9 Feb Friday we made good on our promise to treat the WACONGO Dance Co. to a traditional Congolese dinner, and on this week's podcast, Jeff said that I'd share the recipes I prepared.  If you haven't listened to the podcast yet, click here and bend an ear!  You'll hear some good conversation with guests Elie Kihonia and Anicet Mundundu.  Below you'll find not only the recipes you can use to make a Congolese feast of your own, but get a peek into our post-fundraising-event celebration.

If your mind is on how you can  learn something about this regional cooking, click on The Congo Cookbook to browse an online storehouse of recipes from all over Africa.  Some may be easy to pull together with a few substitutes, but others require ingredients that you might not find in your corner market--especially if you live in rural areas; however, if you live in a place like Pittsburgh, there are some world food markets around that stock things like palm oil (standard cooking oil for most traditional dishes I know), gari (cassava powder), plantains (cooking bananas), cassava leaves (greens), and maggi cubes (a type of flavoring/vegetarian boullion).

In particular, gari (or, what we called bugali) might strike the American palate as unusual.  I know the kids dining at the table who'd grown up here in the US were unfamiliar with it, and went for the rice instead  (a popular plan B that goes with all the sauces).  Bugali a dough-like starch made with precooked cassava powder.  You have to mix the powder vigorously and long with boiling water until it's the proper consistency--not too soft (otherwise it gets sticky); it needs to be just firm enough that you can  easily tear off small pieces and press a thumb dent in the middle; while dining, it works almost like a small, edible spoon.  This is what you dip in various sauces.  It's hard work to make bugali right.  In Swahili the verb you use  is  "kusonga" which means "to press" or "put pressure on" the bugali.  It's more of a kneading action than anything else.   I miss having the proper tools--what I really need is a big, sturdy wooden spoon, but I  made do with a metal one--which I bent rather badly by the end.  Here is a glimpse of the process and the final product (part of it, anyway).

In addition to the base starches bugali (gari), and rice, here are the main dishes I prepared:

  • A meat sauce which most closely resembles the recipe for Moambe stew in the cookbook; I did not add the optional greens, so, as you can see in the photo, it was a rich red color from tomato paste and palm oil.  I prepared the food in the order the recipe suggests, but I added a bit of garlic, and used Maggi cubes for flavoring (to taste).  Since my brother has an allergy to peanuts, we substituted cashew butter, which worked like a charm.  We got lots of compliments on this dish, and most of it was gone by the end of the meal (though, when 17 people come to dinner, admittedly, that helps put a dent in leftovers, too).  Elie announced toward the end of dinner that he would have one more serving of the goat sauce: "for dessert."  Now that's what I call appreciation!

  • A cassava greens sauce we used to call "sombe"; it's a combination between recipes for feuilles de manioc and mfumbwa.  I fried up onion, leeks, garlic, and then added the cassava leaves, maggi flavoring, smoked fish, and tomato paste.  To my mother's health-conscious dismay, my dad used to throw a pound of peanut butter in every African dish we made, indiscrimintately.  I reserved my homage to Dad's liberal use of nut butter entirely for the goat sauce, and left the greens to have its own separate flavor this time.

  • Plantains in palm oil is a pretty simple and straightforward dish.  I didn't cook it with any chile peppers; we put the hot stuff on the table and let diners decide whether or not to give the foods an extra kick according to individual taste.  These disappeared very quickly;  in fact, when they began to grow scarce and one of the ladies asked for a serving, Elie gave her one, runty, piece, teasing her that he was keep the rest for himself.  She then--in Elie's words--"kidnapped" the plantains, and served herself a more satisfying portion.

Eating together is more than eating together--particularly in Congolese culture; when you feed someone or eat someone's food, you have an opportunity to show  trust, appreciation, and care, and to really enjoy each other's company during moments of nourishment and satisfaction.  Also, to my particular taste, this kind of eating is not pinkies-up, but rowdy and full of fun, laughing, and talking.  Teasing each other and trying to make each other fat is a constant source of amusement.  At the beginning of the meal, when I welcomed everyone to the table, I dictated that no one would be allowed to rise again unless they had gained at least five pounds.  The response suggested our guests happily accepted the gustatory challenge.  Last time Jeff and I were in Congo, force-feeding was a source of 60% of the humor at the dinner table.   After we were completely full, Bizi would trick us into eating a little more by sneaking a portion of something onto our plates using clever variations of the  tried-and-true "look over there!" technique.   After a bout of retaliation, during which Clementine (Bizi's wife), Jeff and I collaborated to saddle Bizi with an extra potato on a night he was particularly full,  I remember him crying out, in defeat, "Who did this?!" When we all grinningly pretended ignorance, he waved a finger at all of us and said "tomorrow I will be more vigilant... unfortunately, I will also not be here" (he had a dinner engagement elsewhere the following night). Then he forced down his potato before collapsing in a heap on the couch.

It was our great pleasure to personally thank the WACONGO Dance Company for their brilliant performance at our event (the video of which we will make available  on the site soon) and to enjoy their excellent company.  As we work to partner with Congolese who are making good changes in the Congo, it's also important to us that we make connections and network with Congolese who are doing the same here in Pittsburgh.  The WACONGO Dance Company and Afrika Yetu clearly enrich this city with their services and their talent.  Now that we know them a bit better, we are pleased to call them not only partners in our efforts, but friends.


1500-1884 (Precolonial)

9 Feb


Click here to read an overview of the DR Congo before it was colonized and turned into a state.


'Heart for Congo' fundraiser features auction, films, performances


The Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a vast, resource-rich, yet underdeveloped and war-torn nation in central Africa -- is one of the poorest countries in the world.

A Pittsburgh couple with deep ties to the region, Becky and Jeff Cech, have decided to do something to help. "Heart for Congo" is a cultural event and fundraiser supporting a teaching project in the Congo, featuring a silent auction of art, Congolese snacks, crafts, short films, and a performance by the Wacongo Dance Company, a traditional Congolese dance and music ensemble. The event is Saturday at the Paramount Pictures Film Exchange, a historic building in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood.

The silent art auction features donated works from primarily local artists, including James Simon, Christo Braun, Tim Oliveira and Pat Perry. Proceeds benefit the Congolese Advocacy Memorial Project (C.A.M.P.) Fund, which supports a rural nursing school, medical aid organization and teaching projects.

This year, C.A.M.P. is collaborating with a Congolese university on "The Jitoe Project," which seeks to help build Congo's professional class. In Swahili, Jitoe means "give of yourself," an expression that describes gifts of time, service and talent The Cechs will contribute their professional skills for a year in the Congo. Jeff Cech, who recently earned a master's degree in journalism and media arts from Duquesne University, will teach classes at the Universite Chretienne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC) in broadcast journalism and media ethics.

Becky Cech, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh, grew up in a rural area of the Congo, where her father was a hospital administrator and headmaster of a nursing school. She plans to teach writing and African literature at UCBC.

"Heart for Congo" will last from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The Paramount Film Exchange is located at 1727 Boulevard of the Allies, with an entrance on Miltenberger Street. Admission is $5. Details:


News source: 'Heart for Congo' fundraiser features auction, films, performances - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Friday, January 28, 2011

Fundraiser and Cultural Event will Support Teaching Project in the Congo

The "Heart for Congo" will be held this Saturday (January 29th) in the Uptown District of Pittsburgh. The event will include a silent art auction, with pieces donated by local artists, as well as a performance by the Wacongo Dance Company (a traditional Congolese music and dance troop). All proceeds will go to the Congolese Advocacy Memorial Project (C.A.M.P.) initiative of the Fulton County Medical Center.

The C.A.M.P. Fund also hosts ongoing projects in Congo, collaborating with local institutions, Technical Medical Institute of Rwanguba, and a medical aid organization HEAL Africa to operate a rural nursing school.


Saturday's event focuses on education in Congo. Event co-coordinator Jeff Cech says there is a big need for materials and teachers and the fundraiser will help the education of Congolese students.... "We're raising funds to specifically (support) a project, the Jitoe Project. Jitoe means 'to give of yourself' in Swahili. So the project is one that's hoping to send Rebecca (another coordinator) and myself to teach at University for two semesters."

Event Co-Coordinator Rebecca Cech says the idea is to educate a large number of people so that they will want to get involved in government and make peace sustainable...."Our entire goal is to put the power in the right hands of the people who are actually doing good. People who are professionals and in positions to break the cycles of violence.
She says that giving an education to Congolese students is a main way of providing leadership the country needs. The fundraiser will take place from five to nine p.m. in the former Paramount Studios Building (1727 Blvd. of the Allies).

News source:

Content Coming Soon!


Pardon our dust!




Events and Activities

All donations we receive from all the activities listed below go directly to the 501(3)(c) CAMP Fund.  Any costs associated with outreach, education, and advocacy we pay privately.  If you know of an opportunity for outreach or education about the DR Congo where you feel we can be useful, do not hesitate to contact us and ask for help.  We will do our best to meet your needs.


All of the events and activities listed below reflect our commitment to peace and prosperity DR Congo and our belief in:


  1. providing free and reliable information to the public about challenges in DR Congo as well as opportunities for support and advocacy, 
  2. cultivating local and international partnerships, and
  3. taking informed action to meet those goals.


We are committed, above all, to helping address the roots of human rights abuses, social inequities, and lack of social services in DRC and to work alongside motivated and talented Congolese who want to take charge of their country's future.


Outreach & Education:


  • The Reel Congo Film Series.  From July-October we ran a film series every Sunday evening featuring films from or about the Congo.  Each month focused on a particular subject and conversation following the film explored differing perspectives about the subject in question.  The goal was to educate audiences, so that they could leave understanding more about DR Congo with a growing appreciation for its culture and people.  Several local Congolese led discussions.  For an explanation of the program's focus and a list of the films shown, visit here.


  • Woodland Hills Middle School Visit.  On March 2, 2011 Becky taught 7th graders about the Congo, so they could better appreciate the cultural background of a Congolese student, Japhet, in their midst.  Click here for the blog post on her visit here for a podcast 
  • Collection for Congolese immigrant family. On March 9, 2011 we coordinated a donation of items to help Pepo Mazingi; he worked 10 years to bring his family to Pittsburgh only to have a house fire in December 2010; they escaped with minor injuries but lost everything.  Click here for the story.


  • WQED Community Cinema.  On March 10, 2011 Becky served as an expert panelist for an event previewing a new documentary about a Congolese woman who started an organization to help refugees. Click here for audio discussion about the film.


  • Carlow College Conference on Empowerment.  On February 26, 2011 Becky gave a presentation about Congo’s advertisements and how they reflect a public's desire for power to exert control over their lives.


  • Engineers without Borders visit.  On March 22, 2011 Jeff gave a talk about Congolese history and development, focusing on hydroelectric power.  Click here for the podcast.

Fundraising Events:


  • Heart for Congo.  On January 3oth, 2011 (Jim Camp’s birthday) we held a fundraising and cultural event partnering with Pittsburgh artists to raise money for the CAMP Fund.  Visit here for details.


  • Help Healing In Congo.  On March 18th we tabled at a Pittsburgh Human Rights Network event Help Healing in Congo, which benefitted women in Congo victimized by sexual violence.


Human Rights Arts Festival.  On April 11, 2011 we tabled for the Human Rights Arts Festival at Duquesne University.

Podcast 5: Prendergast in Pittsburgh Part-1

27 Feb

John Prendergast, Co‐Founder of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity, gave a talk at the University of Pittsburgh on February 23, 2011.  He offered some excellent advice for individuals committed to ending human rights abuses, encouraging all of us to get involved and take action; his work compliments the CAMP Fund goals, and he has good, practical advice for ways to help that

  • cost nothing
  • promise to make a big impact, and
  • only take a few minutes and a few computer clicks out of a busy day.

He will be speaking about sexual violence in D.R. Congo in the Frick Fine Arts Building on Mon., Feb. 28, 2011 at 7 p.m.  He will also be showing the film  The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.  In it, Lisa F. Jackson, a film-maker who was herself a rape victim, tells her own story and invites Congolese women to offer theirs.  Jackson's aim is to help her audience understand this particular dynamic of war in the DRC . 


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