With a complex history of civil war and political corruption, it’s unsurprising that gifts we take for granted such as health, education, and safety, are struggles for people living in DR Congo. This has a direct impact on the way ACET DRC delivers their education and who they choose to partner with.
In the Mbankana community, described by some as ‘a city within the city of Kinshasa’, most girls and boys become parents before they are 18 years old. Volunteer educators trained by ACET DRC claim that early motherhood is so extensive that, within each household, at least one girl less than 15 years old has already become a mother. Rumours and misconceptions around sex, like elsewhere in Congo, are all around, such as:
“a virgin girl who is over the age of 14 and becomes pregnant will always have to give birth by a Caesarean section”
“the oil contained within condoms is toxic and will cause cancer”
“living with a person who has HIV is dangerous as they will end up infecting someone”
The Church gives some stability in Congo as it provides schools, healthcare centres, and hospitals, and its leaders are recognized and trusted as a source of knowledge within communities. But ministry training does not cover sexual and reproductive health knowledge, nor equip them in how to minister to others about this important area of their lives.
For example, before the ACET DRC training in Mbankana, not one of 32 church leaders could identify parts of the male and female genital organs, there was a complete lack of understanding about the female menstrual cycle, and AIDS was thought to be the result of witchcraft.
ACET DRC’s training improved knowledge immensely. All trainees now know the difference between HIV and AIDS and understand how the virus develops. There were also significant improvements in knowledge of the reproductive systems and menstrual cycle. In a context where education about these topics is non-existent and myths are accepted as truth, increasing knowledge and shifting cultural norms is a huge undertaking.
The enthusiasm of church leaders is what drives the project forward, and awareness and change is spreading as their teachings resonate with people in Mbankana and the surrounding areas. People are eager to hear church leaders speak about sex openly and understand what the Bible has to say about these subjects. For many this application of Scripture to their everyday lives is a new and exciting approach to their faith.
Francois share his testimony:
“ACET DRC is different from other organisations because it succeeds in breaking the taboo on sex in its teachings. ACET is able to give churches space to talk about sex with respect and even helps pastors talk about condoms in HIV prevention without hesitation. Other organizations are only concerned with young people but the unhealthy environment stifles their teaching. ACET works first on changing the environment and then on young people.”