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Providing literacy training for Congolese women

The area where we work saving gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is extremely remote and rural, in addition to being impoverished. The Fossey Fund’s community programs are aimed at helping these communities thrive, as we address such basic issues as food security and livelihoods.

Another important aspect of helping communities has to do with education. In this area of the DRC, most women have not had the opportunity to go to school, often due to poverty and to early marriages. This limits their ability to play greater roles in their communities and help provide for their families.

When local women in our Nkuba Conservation Area expressed the need for such assistance, the Fossey Fund embarked on a collaboration with them to organize special classes in adult literacy: reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as income-generating activities.

Since last October, we have been helping 77 women from three villages with a yearlong training program. Classes take place three afternoons a week in local schools, where the Fossey Fund rents space. We also provide learning materials for the women, and pay for three instructors from state schools, who create lesson plans in accordance with the Congolese national school program and textbooks. Every three months, the women are evaluated to determine how well they are learning.

Congolese women participating in our literacy program.

How literacy helps women

In addition to learning the basics of literacy, we are helping the women organize into associations, with support to start income-generating activities of their choosing so that they can put their new knowledge to work.

“Thanks to my learning, I now have a good business operation,” says Mpala Mikoka, a widow who lives in Mabeka. “Now I know how to keep my own accounts and how to calculate profits before undertaking a business activity,” she explains.

Mwamini Kashinde Elene says: “I got married at the age of 14 and did not know how to read or write, but thanks to this adult literacy training, I already feel proud in my village. At home, I now can support my husband in managing the allocation of our salary.”

Alima Bumana, who is the wife of a local pastor said she felt frustrated that she could not read from the Bible in their church. “But thanks to the training received, I am beginning to read and fulfill my natural role. I feel restored in my pride and dignity as a woman.”

Local Congolese women who are learning to read through our education programs.

Education helps conservation too

The Fossey Fund believes that when people thrive, conservation will thrive too. This can happen in many ways, and in this case the education of women is a key factor in involving them in conservation, where they can quickly become leaders and educate others.

“With my new skills and knowledge, I am beginning to sensitize the women and men of our church on the importance of conservation and the gorillas,” says Bumana.

The success of this program has been noticed by neighboring villages, who have also requested training. Our hope is to make this work permanently available, since the benefits to the women, the communities and conservation are so significant.