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Class act: Adult literacy training changes lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo

In Bweremana, North Kivu, a project backed by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is teaching people skills they missed out on at school
, Ben Anguandia and Helen Vesperini
Desanges Kabuya Ndanzi in the classroom where she receives literacy training in DRC
Never too late: Desanges in the classroom where she receives literacy training through CAIDEV, a farmers' association backed by WFP and FAO. Photo: WFP/Ben Anguandia

This article marks the International Day of Education (24 January) which recognizes that 258 million children and youth still do not attend school... and celebrates learning heroes

“On top of my farming work, I get paid US$25 a month for working as a cleaner, but my contract says US$50 a month,” says Desanges Kabuya Ndanzi. “It’s only since I’ve started learning to read that I’ve become aware of this.”

Desanges is a smallholder farmer in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who is overcoming the shame she used to feel at not being able to read, through literacy training. 

The 35-year-old, who is raising seven children alone, is six weeks into a course run by the World Food Programme  (WFP) and its partners that is empowering her with the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Even with the support of the farmers’ organization that Desanges is part of, taking care of the family’s needs is not easy. On Tuesdays and Fridays Desanges sells bananas and potatoes at the market here in Bweremana, in North Kivu. 

Whatever the challenges, she is determined to get all her children through school. Her eldest child, a boy of 19, has just completed secondary school and the next in line, twins, are doing well in their secondary education. Her fourth child is in Year 5 of primary school.

The three younger ones are the children of her late sister and receive some financial support for their schooling from a local church.

Photo: WFP/Ben Anguandia
Empowerment: Desanges outside the institute. Photo: WFP/Ben Anguandia

“Whenever I do get paid, I set the money for the school fees aside by paying it into the local savings group as you cannot over-estimate the value of being able to read and write. I just want the children to be able to finish school, get a decent job and have a decent life,” she says.

Traditionally in this village on the shores of Lake Kivu, women work the land and may get only a few years’ primary schooling.

“I myself didn’t go to school at all,” she explained. “My father died before I was born, and my mother died giving birth to my younger sister when I was one-and-a-half. The nuns took us in and when I was three, we were taken in by a local lady who raised us, but she didn’t have money to send us to school.”

“I was married, but my husband left many years ago,” she says, matter-of-fact—now that she is finally getting an education, her focus is on the future.

“I can count up to 50 now and I’ve started writing,” she says. “Before I had heard of ABC, but I had no idea how you put them together to make words. I got onto the literacy programme because I’m a member of the local farmers’ organization created with the support of the programme. The organizers know that I’m not afraid of hard work in the fields and they put my name forward and said it would help me in the future.”

Blackboards: Most of CAIDEV's members are women. Photo: WFP/Ben Anguandia

That organization, CAIDEV (Centre to Support Development Initiatives) has been in existence since 2012 and has 80 members, 63 of whom are women. The idea is smallholder farmers can make a better living from their land. When the WFP-FAO resilience programme started in 2018, CAIDEV was among the organizations chosen to participate.

Desanges said she has been asked to get involved in the running of CAIDEV, but so far has always refused, embarrassed at her inability to take notes. “It’s something I’ve always felt ashamed of, but I think once I finish my training, I’ll be ready to take on more responsibility within the organization,” she says.

Two female members of CAIDEV who did the 2019 literacy training have taken on leadership positions within the organization’s savings scheme.

“Ideally all of our members would do the literacy and numeracy training,” says CAIDEV head Prosper Hajuamungu Mbonoke. 

Desanges is already sure that knowing how to read and write will open up opportunities. For one thing, after she completes the training, she will receive a grant to expand her market business and possibly branch out further. “I want to make a name here for myself as a businesswoman,” she says.

The WFP and  FAO resilience programme in Bweremana is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the German development bank (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, KfW).

Learn more about WFP's work in DRC