In 1988, at the age of 6, Arthur-Kalala Katalayi went to visit his grandparents at their homes in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Lubumbashi, in the Katanga Province.
“I remember it being a beautiful country. It was extremely humid. It was very different, obviously, from France,” said Katalayi, who was born in Lyon, France, and raised in Paris. Both of his grandparents are originally from Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of the Kasai-Oriental Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Less than 10 years after Katalayi visited his family, the Congo had witnessed two civil wars that have led to the deaths of more than 5.4 million people. Recently, as a result of fighting between rebel groups and the Congolese army, many people do not have access to food, water or shelter, according to the Web site of the nonprofit Giving Back to Africa.
Despite what was depicted in the media of a shattered country, Katalayi said he was pleasantly surprised by what he witnessed in 2007, on his latest trip to the Congo. He still saw the Congo as a beautiful country.
“What struck me was the warmth of the people — people who don’t have much. It struck a chord and touched me,” he said.
However, he realized through his travels, that there is a need for improving the education system for Congolese youth because they are the country’s future leaders.
“I could have been one of them. I have been blessed enough to get the education that I have received,” said the graduate student at Rider.
This spring, Katalayi will receive a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership with an Information Technology concentration. Before coming to the United States in 2001, he spent three years in the United Kingdom to finish high school. In 2005, he graduated from Salem International University in West Virginia, where he was on a soccer scholarship and received a B.S. in Computer Science.
Since 2008, Katalayi has made it his mission to support Giving Back to Africa, which helps to bring educational development to Congolese youth.
In an effort to raise awareness of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Katalayi held Congo Day: Giving Back to Africa Fundraiser on April 23 in the BLC Theater as part of his project for LEAD 598: Project Seminar in Organizational Leadership. The event featured clips from a documentary about the Congo, a presentation about its history and culture, a question-and-answer session and Congolese food.
In February, Katalayi gave a presentation about the Democratic Republic of Congo to two Baccalaureate Honors freshmen classes that had recently read The Poisonwood Bible. The book, by Barbara Kingsolver, tells the story of a white missionary and his family from the United States who go to the Congo to try to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. During the presentation, Katalayi talked about the social, historical, geographical and economic background of the Congo, its military struggles and its wealth of natural resources.
“I wanted our young students to hear of this abuse from someone with close ties to the region,” explained Dr. William Amadio, associate professor of Computer Information Systems. “As a result of Mr. Katalayi’s presentation, 20 young people are aware of this kind of exploitation and can connect it to their encounter with him.”
According to the Giving Back to Africa Web site, www.givingbacktoafrica.org, there is a great global demand of Congolese resources, including gold, diamonds, tin and coltan, an ingredient found in cell phones and computers. These natural resources are exported to other countries, but the wealth is not returned to Congolese citizens.
“Congo is one of the top three richest countries in the world based on natural resources,” said Katalayi, who has written a synopsis of a book, The Katalyst: A Positive Perspective for a Prosperous Congo, which he hopes to publish one day.
“We have learned the Servant Leadership method in class, and I reckon that this style of leadership is exactly the one I am using for my Giving Back to Africa project,” Katalayi said. “Servant leaders serve the people. When you are a leader, that’s what you are supposed to do.”