Dreams of My Homeland works across the globe to improve access to education, support skill development, and help people achieve their potential. In Lexington, KY, DOMH provides support to immigrant and refugee families. And in Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they operate a school providing primary and secondary education to young people there. We worked together in early 2020 toward a refined visual identity. Recently, Will Jones sat down with director Yamukumba Mbayo to see what they’ve been working on since.
Will Jones (WJ): Thanks for sitting down to talk with me. Let’s start at the beginning: What is the origin story of Dreams of My Homeland? What was the vision back then?
Yamukumba Mbayo (YM): It all started in 2016. Our founder, Katie, traveled to the Congo to visit family. It was ten years since she left. Schools there aren’t in great condition. Access to education is a huge need. Witnessing that need during her visit inspired her to build a new school.
WJ: And Katie is your mom, right?
YM: Yes, she’s my mom. We settled in Lexington as refugees in 2006. That first trip back was very meaningful to her.
WJ: Tell me a little more about the condition of the schools. What inspired Katie to take on improving access to education?
YM: School conditions are challenging environments for learning. Students, including young children, walk long distances — between 6 and 10 miles — in all conditions to get to school every day.
At the beginning of our project, we consulted the community to hear their perspective. That was their main concern — walking in the heat for long distances is not easy. You are easily dehydrated. I visited this past November, and I got dehydrated a few times.
Access to water and malnutrition are also significant challenges. And, most schools in the Congo are private. For parents in one of the most impoverished areas on our planet, paying for school is a financial hardship.
WJ: It can be overwhelming to know where and how to start. What drove you to that school as a starting point?
YM: The familiarity of the experience. I see myself a lot in what the students are experiencing. My mom does, too. She faced similar challenges as a girl trying to access education and achieve her ambitions. It’s an experience shared by students throughout central Africa. Knowing I can change something is what fuels me.
WJ: Since that initial visit, what have you accomplished?
YM: Our first task was purchasing land. That year, we found a location and started building. We had two classrooms the next year. We continued raising funds, eventually opening an office and six classrooms in 2018.
This is the third school year. Looking back, we’ve had several major accomplishments. We installed a water tank, a well, a pump, and a generator providing electricity to the school. Before we dug the well, students had to leave to find water in the middle of the day. Most recently, we built a fence around the school.
WJ: I know the lack of security was a major concern at the beginning. How has the fence helped?
YM: Before, it was all open. Anyone could walk onto the property. We lost a water tank, a generator, building materials. The cost of building almost doubled because of the lack of security. Now, gates control the entrance and exit. The school is completely enclosed. It even helps the flow of students coming in — it’s easier to see who’s on time and who’s late.
WJ: It is amazing how much you all accomplished in a few short years. How has your vision grown or changed since the early days?
YM: We envision a better future. So we are always thinking of how to expand. We see work we’ve done as a learning process. We want to replicate this multiple times because it’s been successful. We have been able to secure key partnerships with organizations in the Congo — for projects like planting trees near the school — and with organizations here.
WJ: You’re trying to replicate this at other schools in the area?
YM: Yes. The need is large. During the pandemic, two schools in the community closed because of bankruptcy. This happened across the Congo. We can’t take over all the schools but hope to help manage schools getting ready to close.
The majority of our funding goes to running the school. It costs $150 per year per student. That cost pays for building expenses, teachers, nutrition. Still, it’s hard for some families to meet that cost.
WJ: It sounds like even a small donation would make a significant impact. $150 would go even further.
YM: Yes. We’re working to build the infrastructure for donors to access that information about the impact their donation makes. Because $150 does go a very, very long way.
WJ: We got connected through brand work, working together on a new logo. How important has that been in your growth?
YM: It’s really changed the game. It’s easier for folks to recognize our work. We’ve been able to communicate what we do easily. Our logo is now on t-shirts, on the website. In the Congo right now, our teachers are wearing our shirts.
WJ: That is so cool. So — what’s next?
YM: I mentioned this earlier, but we are focusing our work in Lexington, addressing the needs of adult refugees and immigrants here. Lexington has a flourishing immigrant population — people from all over the world fueling the local economy. Recently, we were awarded a federal grant. That is really big news.
We also recently announced a partnership with BCTC to support refugee career paths. We’ll provide computer and technological literacy classes, ESL classes, coaching, and more. We also conduct workshops for employers with large populations of immigrant and refugee employees to help with language and technological barriers.
WJ: That sounds like good progress. We are excited to see it all unfold. How can people learn more or donate?
YM: Visit our website at dreamsofmyhomeland.org.
We work with two Good Works partners each year, but we are always accepting applications. If you are interested in the program, learn more about it and apply here.