For more than 10 years, Arianna De Reus has traveled to central Africa. But she hasn’t been there on vacation.
During this time, she has worked with her mother, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Women Studies at Penn State Altoona Lee Ann De Reus , to conduct research and praxis in Kenya, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As guest speakers for the Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge, the two presented their work in a Wednesday seminar, titled Indigenous Knowledge That Inspires: Lessons From Research and Praxis in Central Africa, in the Foster Auditorium in Paterno Library.
In particular, they focused on prosecution or forgiveness among rape survivors in Congo; how teachers and youth inspire collaborative entrepreneurial initiatives in Rwanda; and how innovative farming practices in Kenya can be incorporated into a Penn State greenhouse design.
At the start of the seminar, Arianna (sophomore-community, environment and development) summed up why she and her mother do what they do with a simple philosophy.
“It boils down to the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which means, ‘I am because we are’ and ‘what dehumanizes you dehumanizes me,’ ” she said.
Arianna has been traveling with her mom since she was 10 years old, and she currently works in Kenya as a part of the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship program at Penn State.
“I think it says a lot about Arianna that she does this,” Lee Ann said.
Arianna said in order to prevent negative outcomes, the HESE program consults farmers in Kenya first, before taking action.
“We’re constantly learning indigenous knowledge in different ways,” she said.
Kelly Doyle, who received an email about the event, said she learned everything she could about the foundation from the seminar.
“I didn’t know anything prior to coming here today,” she said. “There was so much to learn.”
The pair also showcased people who were important to its mission, such as doctors and organizers who help make their projects work, including the Panzi hospital in Congo that helps those who have been raped.
Lee Ann said she is inspired by the practice of forgiveness from the Congolese women, who she said are the receivers of the social stigma that surrounds being raped and having a child.
“Faith is all they’ve got, maybe forgiveness is a way for them to feel empowered,” Lee Ann said. “It’s remarkable to me that though they have these experiences, there is still this positive response to their children.”
But Lee Ann made sure the focus stayed on central Africa and what can be learned from working there, such as the value of education; the willingness to forgive; coping strategies; resourcefulness and creativity; and courage, strength and resilience.
“It’s not about what inspires us. It’s about what inspires them, and they inspire each other,” she said.
Other projects the De Reus’s are involved with include learning how to produce soymilk, the Aire de Jeux project and the Congo Coffee Project with Equal Exchange.
“[The De Reus’s work] seems like such a big deal, and more people need to know about it,” Doyle (sophomore-community, environment and development) said.