Beans & Rice for the Soul

teaching, learning and living around the world

Secrets of Congo

Book CoverDuring my three years at The American School of Kinshasa, I had the pleasure of working alongside several inspiring teachers.  One gem in particular is Ms. Terae Soumah.  I continue to admire her ability to engage her 5th graders in truly meaningful work.

In October 2009, her class led a campaign to “Break the Silence” about the atrocities still happening in Congo today. (To learn more about breaking the silence, and how you can get involved, visit As part of their campaign, the fifth graders wrote and illustrated a graphic novel called Secrets of Congo. The book explores key issues in DRC: war, racism, child soldiers and fighting over natural resources.  I highly recommend reading this book and sharing it- it’s a great way to learn more about DRC. Thanks to IndyKids! Magazine you can download it for free at

Here is a little story to back up how cool this book is: My high school soccer coach, Mrs. Porterfield, teaches fifth graders in  Alexandria, Virginia. She shared my project website with her kids and also had them read Secrets of Congo.  Then they sent these totally awesome letters to Ms. Soumah, her students and me.Their kind words, hard work and sincere interest in Congo has been inspiring. One of the greatest signs of good teaching is when you hear students asking insightful and challenging questions. Clearly Mrs. Porterfield has got it goin’ on in her classroom! Here are some highlights from the student letters:

Yesterday we read a paper about how Africa isn’t all bad. It was surprising for me because of pictures and stories I have seen on TV or heard and sometimes even on the computers.  How many countries have you gotten letters from? How many weird questions come up in the letters?  Sorry if I am asking so many questions but this girl is curious. -Brigid

I am proud of what you are doing for the DRC. I say this because I myself have African blood running through my veins as both of my parents are from Ghana.  We saw some of the horrors that the DRC is going through. What is your take on all the things the DRC is going through? I am praying for you to make an impact on Goma!  -Senya

What is it like to live in the Congo? When I told my dad about the Congo he was amazed. -Lexi

Why did you choose to teach and live in the Congo and not over here in America? How is the Congo alike to Alexandria and how is it different?  Our class has read the things you have sent us and we are just astonished. -Amelia

Our class (and now our school) is doing pennies for peace to help people in Kinshasa, Congo, and Goma!!! We have over $100 in savings for you guys!!!! You people ROCK! It feels so good to do this for other people. -Nate

When I looked at the pictures on your website everyone looked happy.  It made me think about how much I really have. It sounds fake but it’s not. With all of the terrible things there they still remain happy. While American kids dream about getting out of school they dream about getting in…  My mom and I are doing a bake sale and are donating all of our profits.  We normally get a lot because my dad works at a high school where we are doing the bake sale and high school boys love their sweets.


When I read Secrets of the Congo I was blown away. What kinds of things are you learning?  Is it hard to learn there? -Ryan

Here it is very cold and windy. Today I was walking to school just like you do everyday and my hair felt like it was going to blow off like a wig. You wouldn’t like it here at all- it is so cold.


I too have origins of Africa, like people in Goma. (I’m from Nigeria.) I’ve heard what happened in the DRC. I feel bad they are in war and kids have to battle. I also feel bad that they live near the war areas and they might get killed by being in the war.  I hope the war ends soon.  My teacher went over your website and I thought I was actually making a difference for my continent… Keep up the good work Ms. Rich! -Chima

We read the book Secrets of the Congo, it is a very good book. I liked it a lot. I was really amazed that fifth graders wrote it. Is everything in the book true? They force children to do stuff like that? I was surprised. I am sure you are a very busy woman, but I just wanted to let you know that I am amazed at what you are doing. I wish you luck. -Deeba

How many years do you think the war will go on? -Benton

How is the weather by the way? Is it snowing over there? I wouldn’t think so because you’re near the equator… P.S. We’re rooting for you. -Bryant

Do you like Africa? Do you like your job? I kind of like mine, I’m doing well in school. -Felipe

What kind of hospitals do they have there? Are they outdoor or indoor? -Leia

What do you teach the children there? I want to know if the way they learn is any different than the way we learn. Do you do projects with them, like science experiments or dioramas? Are there any special games they play? For maybe, recess? Are their games different from our games?  I would like to thank you personally for helping the world in this way. I wish that I could be there helping along too! Congratulations on helping and understanding these children. -Ginnie

Is teaching in Goma more challenging than teaching in Virginia? Do you speak French? Can you communicate with the children? Or can they communicate with you? Do you help them with their homework? Write back soon. -Jorge

I’m really happy for the people in your class. I’m happy because they have you to teach them. I bet you’re like a super hero to them. -Leia

I would like to thank you for putting up the article about us on your website because now I feel like I am actually making a difference. I am telling my friends about Goma and we are doing all that we can to help. Along with my two friends whose names are both Michael, I have raised thirteen dollars in my neighborhood! Okay, I want to thank you again for posting the article, and I hope doing all of this is not overwhelming you.


Aren’t these kids awesome?

Best letters EVER.


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This entry was posted on July 18, 2010 by in books, humanities, teaching, travel.
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