Guest, a Congo native, shares story with social studies classes

Diane Mbombo-tite. Photo: Kate Bunster

The students in Mike Jesep’s eighth grade social studies class at Iroquois Middle School got to see their curriculum come to life when a guest speaker came into their classroom Oct. 7 to share fi rst-hand experience on what they have been learning. Diane Mbombo-tite, a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, discussed her experiences with the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra (OSK) and her life in the DRC.   Jesep, who loves documentaries, had recently shown the French subtitled fi lm “Kinshasa Symphony” to his class to reinforce the unit they were studying.   “One of my students went home and discussed the film with their parents. It just so happened that a new family had moved to their church (St. Kateri Parish in Schenectady) that was from Congo.”    That family was the Mbombo-tites: Diane, husband Atsu and their two children, Arnold and Moonya, who moved to America in March. She shared her story with Jesep’s students in the first three classes of the day.   Mbombo-tite was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is in Central Africa and has a population of 60 million. When she was 9 years old, she began singing in the church choir, a passion that would eventually allow her to meet the OSK in 2004 at a music festival, where she performed with them.   The origins of the OSK began with a dream that Congolese Baptist Simon Kimbangu had one night.   “In his dream he had received a message from somebody who told him that he would be the next religious leader. He woke up in the morning and told this to his wife and they decided they had a mission and started his ministry,” said Mbombo-tite.   When his ministry developed a large following, Kimbangu was sought by the local authorities who had grown suspicious of him. Kimbangu was arrested and sent to prison for life. He died in 1951 after 30 years of incarceration.   After Kimbangu’s death, his son Joseph Diangienda was appointed by his mother and other followers as the spiritual leader and the legal representative of Kimbanguism, a religion he named after his father. Diangienda is regarded as the one who really built the church. Kimbanguism has over 20 million followers in most African countries.   When Diangienda gave birth to his son, Armand, he had a vision for him to start a symphony.   Years later, “He told him to do this not as a father, but as a spiritual leader,” said Mbombo-tite. At the time, Armand was in Belgium studying to be a pilot and wanted nothing to do with music.   “He had no dream of being involved in music and found it very weird.”   In 1992, Armand’s airline company had a fatal crash and he lost his job. This is when he started to consider his father’s wishes. Two years later, after a Sunday church service, he asked for volunteers to join him in the creation of OSK.   OSK started out as a 12-person symphony with no experienced players. Armand taught himself piano, trombone and saxophone and then branched out to teach the other members of the OSK how to play and read music.   “Everything that happened in the OSK in terms of buying instruments and making sure people showed up to the performance was all self-fi nanced. In Kinshasa, it’s very hard to find a good job. Every day is a fight to find food and whatever you can give to your children.”   This is a lesson that the Jesep has reinforced throughout the year to his students.   “I always tell them to be grateful for what they have,” said Jesep.   Today, the OSK has about 200 members who are still responsible for fi nancing the orchestra. In 2010, the were noticed by two German fi lmmakers. They produced the fi lm “Kinshasa Symphony,” which has won multiple awards in the U.S.   “To start from nothing and to get to where they are today is something I’m proud of,” said Mbombo-tite.   At the end of the lecture, two of Jesep’s students, Nick Benton and Alexsa Torres, had the opportunity to get up in front of the class and ask Mbombo-tite a couple of questions regarding her acclimation to the U.S. The thing she enjoys most about living here is all the things you can do, such as bowling and seeing movies. She is grateful for all of the opportunities that are in the U.S. She came here to give her children a better life than she had growing up and to have simple things that some take for granted, such as clean water and an education.   “When I was growing up, sometimes I didn’t even have breakfast to eat. I even know people in my family now who don’t have shoes to wear or get to go to school, so be thankful. You are all very luck to be in this country.”   One thing she misses about Congo is the warm weather and her family, she said.   The children all applauded Mbombo-tite at the end and some even went up to her at the end to thank her for sharing her story.   “That was awesome!” one student exclaimed as he made his way to his next class.