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A Fulbright student seeks a greater voice

Goma Mabika, a graduate student in comparative and international education, is interning with the United Nations through Lehigh’s UN partnership.

The Fulbright program at Lehigh has exploded this year with 14 international Fulbright scholars on campus. One scholar is here to learn how to improve education in his home country.

Goma Mabika, a graduate student in comparative and international education, came from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo to the United States as a Fulbright scholar to learn more about education policies and become a leader in education back home.

Mabika was born in a region where one primary school served students from 30 villages and vehicle transportation was not an option. He walked 5 kilometers each way every day to get to school. To be close to his middle school, he rented a house nearby—when he was 12 years-old.

In high school, he saw his parents every three months.

“I thought, ‘Why are there no other schools?’” says Mabika.

A position without a salary

Before he came to the United States, Mabika was a high school teacher. When he got the job after graduating from college, he thought he would be guaranteed a paid teaching position.

But the government could not afford more teachers, so Mabika taught for several years without pay.

“Five thousand teachers worked for no money,” says Mabika. “We felt exploited.”

Mabika set out to change things. He became president of a teacher’s union and fought for teacher salaries throughout the Congo. After he was arrested by the police, Mabika’s fellow union members took up his cause.

Because of his courage and integrity, teachers in the Congo began to benefit from negotiations.

Back home, an honorary president

Mabika is still honored in his home country for what he did.

“When I go back home, they still call me ‘President.’ It makes me very proud.”

At Lehigh, Mabika is continuing his education so he can work for more change—and more schools—in the Congo.

As part of the Lehigh University United Nations Partnership, he is interning with the United Nations.

Other universities do not offer the same opportunities as Lehigh, he says.

“I feel lucky. Lehigh is a great university for me.”

Mabika says the College of Education’s comparative and international education program has helped him learn about how education systems work.

“Comparative and international education has a deep understanding of the similarities and differences around the world,” says Mabika, “especially policies and how to apply changes.

“Education needs to be more accessible. I need to learn about policies in education to make a change and to have a voice.”

Story by Caitlyn Prozonic

Posted on Saturday, December 31, 2011

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