Visiting eastern Congo, we were thrilled to meet some of the 115 students Action Kivu sends to school through your partnership. In the midst of good news of girls earning higher grades and learning the games they play, we were always aware of the children for whom we do not have the funds to send to school. Often they are siblings of the kids who are in our education assistance program are left at home, helping parents farm or haul heavy loads of stone or brick for $1 / day. Families with six, 10, or 12 kids can barely afford to feed them, let alone pay the monthly school fees in Congo. How can we help? In a country where the Catholic church is against family planning, where the women have few to no rights, how does one educate couples as to the use of contraceptives?
In the face of staggering statistics, Amani has long wanted to convene a family planning seminar. When he learned that Shatreen, a graduate student at Yale in African Studies with a background in women’s health, was going to spend the summer in eastern Congo as an intern for Action Kivu / ABFEK, Amani started planning how to host the conversation. Together with Annie, a Congolese woman educated in health and nutrition, Amani and Shatreen prepared to lead the discussion in Mumosho, where they were surprised when three times as many women arrived to discuss family planning. The women came with babies on their backs, children in tow, eager to listen, learn, and ask their questions in the safe space of the Mumosho Women’s Center.
Shatreen wrote that Amani had emphasized that he didn’t want the presentation on family planning to be a lecture, but a conversation. “When we arrived in Mumosho, we had estimated that the discussion would take approximately 45 minutes. However, upon arrival at the Mumosho Sewing Center, we saw that over 100 women had arrived, many carrying babies, we realized the presentation had resonated deeply in the community. The discussion lasted for 3 hours. Women were seated in the sewing center, but because of the large turnout, many women stood or sat along the side.
“The women were excited and eager to listen to the presentation, and from the way they listened to Amani, you could tell they deeply respected him.
“The presentation involved defining family planning as a concept, describing its importance, and then explaining different methods available for women in both Congo and Rwanda — the latter country relevant since the village was located so close to the border, and people often crossed over. After I explained each method, the questions would begin, and Anny handled them beautifully. Women wanted to know costs of each method, as well as posing questions about how each kind of contraceptive worked. For example, women were curious about birth control pills – did you have to take them everyday? Did they last 24 hours? Or would you need to take them each time you had intercourse?
“Although there are different options available for women in Eastern Congo, such as condoms, injections, and birth control pills, certain long-term methods, such as Norplant or the IUD, are available in Rwanda. However, when we talked to doctors at local Nyantende Hospital, one of the major barriers to accessing birth control is religion.
“Many people in Mumosho and in eastern Congo are Catholic, and because of the Church’s stance against family planning, they are reluctant to use contraceptives. Another barrier we noted, after our discussion with the women of Mumosho, was reluctance on behalf of husbands. Although all of the women who attended were eager to use some form of family planning, we repeatedly heard that we needed to talk to the men in Mumosho about the importance of family planning. Because of our experiences this week, we are planning a conversation with husbands in Mumosho about family planning. This will definitely be a challenging step, but Amani will help lead the conversation. I have more confidence in this next step because of Amani’s leadership,” Shatreen wrote.
Days later, Amani emailed more exciting news:
“Shatreen, Annie and I have just arrived from Mumosho for another Family Planning day with the men, husbands of the women we worked with last week. It was an exciting day and 100% of the participants expressed high need of contraception. At the end of the day they said all they want now is practice and not theory. We want to organize another day with both wives and husbands, and we are also planning a day talking Domestic Violence”
Your partnership makes these programs possible! While the education regarding family planning continues, allowing families to give better care to the kids they have, we do not have the funds to purchase the contraceptives for the couples. Please share this story of encouragement and the needs the community has to fund healthcare, and consider a monthly donation or one-time gift toward the work we are doing in eastern Congo!
Read more, from the Guttmacher Institute: More Investment in Contraceptive Technologies Needed to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy Rates Among Developing Country Women