AP Literature Service Learning 2020/21

Understanding Congolese history: a simulation using familiar ground

by Jerry L., Stephanie D., Isabel C., Aiyan L., Natalie Y.

AP Lit students

“In an effort to support its growing student population, Pinghe is now aggressively trying to expand its campus size. As we all know, Pinghe corners Concordia…but now it wants more! Concordians are now at risk of being booted out by our friendly neighbors. What should we do?”

As bizarre as it sounds, this was the prompt that opened our AP Lit simulation on Monday, December 14th. Hosted in the Wellness Hub, the event attracted upwards of 20 Concordia high schoolers–all of whom knew no details about what would happen in the simulation. None of the students signed up to compete in a grueling three-part choose-your-own-adventure game, nor did they come to learn about African exploitation; they were initially lured to attend by our delicious snack offerings.  

But before we dive into more details, let’s talk about how we got here. This fall, our class explored Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Investigating pressing ideas regarding colonialism, cultural ignorance, and systemic inequality within the book, we collectively realized that our community desperately lacks awareness about issues of social injustice in Africa. As international school students, we take pride in being connected to our transnational roots. Yet, in reality, most of us may be more clueless about global affairs than we would like to admit. 

Inspired by the intricate totality of the DRC’s history, we sought to model our simulation on key historical events. In particular, we considered matters of historic colonialism, the rubber trade, and present-day economic exploitation as the best examples to maximize an awareness of Congolese history. Let’s break it down. *Results are bolded

Scenario #1: Pinghe is expanding their campus...and they are trying to seize Concordia’s territory

Scenario #1 modeled historical European colonialism in Africa. Representing African states as Concordia and European colonists as Pinghe, this scenario encouraged reflection on how to confront the prospect of colonization from a disadvantaged position. Participants had the choice to: 

a.          Reinforce gates and build a wall to fend off the Pingheians (-3)

b.          Initiate diplomatic negotiations and try to talk Pinghe out of it (-4)

c.           Sabotage Pinghe and fight for Concordia’s honor (-0)

d.          Stay put and do nothing (-5)

Scenario #2: In order to improve Concordia’s prestige and earn his year-end bonus, High School Principal Mr. Chowning now mandates all students to excel academically. Students are now required to achieve an A in all of their classes. 

Scenario #2 used Mr. Chowning’s position as a metaphor for King Leopold II of Belgium. This event replicated the tyranny of King Leopold’s rule where he imposed mandatory (and horribly brutal) punishments on Congolese people who did not conform to social or economic rules. Participants had the choice to:

a.          Boycott classes altogether (-5)

b.          Study harder and pull all nighters (-1)

c.           Attempt to transfer to SAS, where the principal isn’t evil (-3)

d.          Develop a secretary system of cheating (-5)

Scenario #3: Concordia has been approached by Blue Frog about a catering partnership with Aramark. The new options are now much more delicious, but it seems that Blue Frog has been stealing some of the school’s food supply. 

Scenario #3 is modeled on modern-day neocolonialism in the DRC. This event shed light on issues such as the problematic mining of conflict minerals which supply our technology. Participants had the choice to:

a.          Do nothing and allow Blue Frog to continue stealing (-5)

b.          Confront Blue Frog about the stealing (-3)

c.           Cut ties with Blue Frog immediately and press charges (-1)

d.          Improve upon Aramark’s quality and forfeit partnership with Blue Frog (-2)

With these scenarios, the purpose of the simulation was to help participants gain a better understanding of the history of the Congo. Participants were told to approach each scenario from the perspective of Concordia, which is smaller and weaker in influence in comparison to our neighbor, Pinghe. This was done deliberately to foster empathy so students might appreciate the tough choices that had to be made in the face of events such as the Scramble for Africa, or the appeal of modern-day neo-colonialism from more economically developed countries. 

Overall, we hoped to encourage better consumer choices. Without a basic idea of Congolese history, it would be difficult to understand the prevalence and severity of issues such as the mining of conflict minerals which continues till this day. Metals such as tin, tantalum, cobalt, and gold are some of the most extensively mined metals from the DRC. These metals are necessary for the creation of our electronic devices, and companies will oftentimes solicit help from child laborers to meet demand. Children are then unable to attend school which, in turn, makes the country more susceptible to being taken advantage of. So, as the beneficiaries of this system, the next time you think about upgrading your iPhone, consider whether you are perpetuating the existing problem. As author and academic Juan Enriquez states, "This isn't about kids and borders. It's about us. This is about who we are, who we the people are, as a nation and as individuals." We often overlook the interconnectedness of social issues and economic and political issues, and it is important that we use media to aid our own knowledge so that we can create stronger arguments and demonstrate the real meaning of “putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.” 

By the end of the simulation, everyone left with a newfound sense of duty to understand issues facing African nations. The activity, though brief, introduced students to the present exploitation of resources in various nations, and is sparking conversations for future change. Though the history of the DRC cannot be undone, how history unfolds can still be written.