BETHANY, W.Va. — The students of Bethany College’s freshmen honors seminar are turning off their cell phones Oct. 17 to raise awareness of the mineral that powers our phones and has caused conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Marie Shindledecker, of Inwood, W.Va., Natalia Chavez-Brown and Alexia Chavez-Brown, both of Frederick, Md., Paisley Travis, of West Finley, Pa., and Lauren Starr, of Venetia, Pa., are encouraging other students to join them in the Cell Out digital fast from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Ogden Dining Hall.
Columbite-tantalite, better known as coltan, is a mineral found in large quantities in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. When refined, coltan can hold a strong charge for a long period of time, which is necessary for the efficient operation of electronics, including cell phones. Because coltan is so valuable, there are conflicts surrounding control of its mining and production — conflicts that have led to many deaths in the Congo.
In announcing the “Cell Out” the freshmen seminar students said, “It is important to raise awareness about this issue because it isn’t widely discussed. The coltan problem has an effect on millions of people, but you rarely hear about it on any news platform. It’s crucial that we recognize our role in this issue and do all that we can to bring it into light.”
The students and their adviser Dr. Debra Hull credit Bethany alumnus Paul Turner ’90, a missions partner with Global Ministries (Disciples of Christ) in Democratic Republic of Congo, with educating them on the issue and motivating them to tell others.
“These small steps make a difference especially when a ‘cell out’ occurs on multiple campuses,” Turner said. “I applaud the leadership of the Honors Seminar in raising awareness of this issue.”
Hull, interim director of the Honors Program, says she is proud of the students for their efforts to bring attention to this issue.
“In seminar, we are studying chaos theory. This is a perfect example of how a small action like buying a cell phone can have unintended consequences that resonate throughout the world,” she said. “Perhaps another small action, turning your cell phone off for an hour, will have an equally resonating impact.”
For those who would like to participate, Global Ministries suggest recording the following message:
“I am turning off my cell phone and recording this message to call attention to the violent conflict over the Congo’s valuable natural resources. Rare minerals like coltan are used in digital electronics like cell phones. Armed groups fight over the mining of precious minerals, and the international sale of these minerals helps finance the continuing conflict in the region. Show you support for U.S. and international efforts to shut down this war over the Congo’s valuable resources.”
The Bethany event coincides with Breaking the Silence Congo Week (Oct. 13-20). The advocacy organization Friend of the Congo says the week aims to raise global consciousness about the situation in the Congo and advocate for peace, justice and human dignity in partnership with the Congolese people. A global Cell Out is planned for Oct. 16.
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Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.