Water Connects Us All
Thursday, June 10, 2021
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Sometimes the most meaningful connections are the ones individuals don’t see coming.
Such is the way Oklahoma 4-H members impacted youth in the Republic of the Congo through the international Water Connects Us All 4-H curriculum, said Jeff Sallee, former state 4-H STEM extension specialist.
Sallee said he was excited to adopt the Water Connects Us All curriculum because of its STEM ties.
“Oklahoma 4-H members traveled to Iowa to learn the curriculum,” Sallee said. “This was made possible through Bayer Agriscience and the National 4-H Council.”
In 2020, these 4-H members and the Luzabu Group Association formed a partnership to dive into the Water Connects Us All curriculum.
The Luzabu Group Association is an organization that promotes STEM education in the Republic of the Congo.
Japhet Mavoungou, the association’s co-founder and vice president, shares the same motivation as Oklahoma 4-H members to spread the impact of the curriculum, he said.
Living in the Republic of the Congo, Mavoungou is a petroleum engineer by profession and an entrepreneur and youth trainer by passion, he said.
The Luzabu Group Association organizes workshops to familiarize students with STEM and prepare students for careers, Mavoungou said.
Mavoungou was selected to be a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2018, a flagship program of the Young African Leaders program created by former President Barack Obama. This opportunity served as a valuable connection to Sallee.
“Sallee invited me to join a camp with Oklahoma 4-H, and once I came back to the Congo, I was invited to be a part of the Water Connects Us All project,” Mavoungou said.
The curriculum is about the importance of water and how it connects the whole planet, Mavoungou added.
The students tried to engineer practices that could improve water quality in both agriculture and communities, Mavoungou said. Students designed a watershed and learned of its importance, he said.
“We know a human being can destroy resources, but at the same time, we can contribute as a team to find solutions so we can use resources smartly,” he added.
Mavoungou and his staff received training materials from the U.S. and met with Oklahoma 4-H members online via Zoom to learn the curriculum.
“Our kids went through the activities and lessons with Mavoungou and his staff,” Sallee said. “Watching young kids from different counties in Oklahoma demonstrate what they know was amazing.”
After training, the staff took the curriculum from school to school to do the same presentation for as many students as possible in the Congo, Mavoungou said.
“It was amazing to see how we can duplicate anything we do, whatever the distance and geographical area,” Mavoungou said.
In addition, 4-H members used videos to train teens across the state, both in person and via Zoom. The group sent their videos to the Republic of the Congo to set up training to teach instructors how they could implement the new curriculum.
“I jumped on the opportunity because I enjoy teaching others about agriculture,” said Teegin Crosthwait, Oklahoma 4-H Ambassador who played a role in the project.
Crosthwait was chosen as a top teacher and attended the National Ag Innovators curriculum in Iowa last February, she said. The trip allowed her to meet new people who shared her passions, she added.
“We learned the curriculum, and the opportunity arose to teach youth in the Republic of the Congo,” she said.
How Water Connects Us All was interesting to teach in the U.S. and other countries, she said.
“In Oklahoma, water connects us to other states, but it also connects us with everybody,” she said. “We can all play a role in water conservation.”
Crosthwait’s experiences with Oklahoma 4-H and the Ag Innovators have further motivated her future career plans.
“I could definitely find a rewarding career teaching others about something I’m so passionate about,” Crosthwait said.
Moving forward, Crosthwait plans to continue teaching others and has set a goal to reach 1,000 students with this curriculum, she said.
Mavoungou also has a vision for how to continue this partnership moving forward, he said.
Although Kenya and several other countries in Africa have 4-H programs, the Republic of the Congo does not have an established 4-H program, Mavoungou added.
“It is my burning desire to create 4-H in the Congo so we can have more collaborations in the years to come,” Mavoungou said. “That is my dream, and dreaming is always good.”
Story by Lauren Millang, Cowboy Journal staff