A Polly Project in Mpala (DRC):
Mpala-Lubanda is a small town on the southwestern shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its colonial history is very unusual, for a Belgian army officer established a fortified outpost there in 1883 as he sought to assist Leopold II, King of the Belgians, in his bid to claim the Congo at the Berlin Conference of 1885. When the Congo Free State was granted, the Mpala fortress was ceded to Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa (better known as the White Fathers because of their robes). Seconded by White Sisters in 1898, the Congo’s first seminary was created at Mpala Mission and a flourishing primary school and a medical clinic. In particular, the Sisters offered literacy to Congolese girls. After years of civil unrest prevented educational opportunities in Mpala, the Sisters’ now-dilapidated classrooms are again used by government teachers. Six classrooms will be rehabilitated through a Polly Project, starting with new roofs – much needed, as these photos attest. The first picture from the 1930s shows a classroom in Mpala serving Congolese girls and the second two in the same room in November 2022.
Why Mpala, and why a Polly Project?
In the mid-1970s, AL Roberts chose Mpala-Lubanda as the location for more than three years of doctoral research leading to a PhD in socio-cultural anthropology; he has recently retired as Distinguished Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA. AL’s late wife Polly (Mary Nooter Roberts, d.2018) undertook her own years of research in the DRC in the late 1980s for a PhD in African Art History. She was Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA and senior curator at the Center for African Art in New York, the UCLA Fowler Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Polly and AL’s studies of African humanities in the DRC, Senegal, and Mauritius permitted them to co-organize traveling museum exhibitions, co-author prize-winning books and scholarly articles, co-teach university courses, and co-deliver lectures around the world. Polly’s broad recognition as a magical teacher able to reach every audience includes the Lifetime Leadership Award of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association and the Dai Sensei Award (“Master Teacher” in Japanese) of the Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles. A project to further education in Mpala will be dedicated to Polly’s remarkably humane gifts, always directed toward helping others to learn life’s beauties.
And here are photos of the same classrooms that Malela has taken this past November:
Why The Reel Project? – [over to you, Krista!] …To be Continued as this is a heartfelt and loaded question 😉