I was just checking back, and realized that I have not written anything about what's happened in our literacy ministry since last September.Partly it's because so much has been happening.
The big news of 2004 has been an experiment linking family planning with adult literacy, through SANRU, the USAID-supported all-Protestant rural public health organization that Dr. Bill Clemmer works with.They promised to fund our work in some rural areas if we, in turn, do family planning education through our classes.Very few people in rural areas have shown any interest in recent years in the contraceptives available through medical centers (too expensive, for one thing), but USAID wanted to give a lot of aid to limiting family size.They needed to do something.They know that it is mostly educated people who plan their families, and have the skills to use effective contraceptive techniques.Therefore they want to increase adult literacy.
Since we have classes in the villages, we have more in-depth contact with village families to help them learn about things that are important to them than do the rural health practitioners, who each serve a number of villages.We want to cooperate with them because family planning is just the sort of important life skill that we want to help Congolese families to learn through literacy, SANRU promised the kind of help we have needed to be able to establish literacy better in poor, more inaccessible rural villages, and it offers free supplementary reading material so that our students can deepen their reading and reading comprehension skills.
Let me hasten to explain to those of you who have horror-filled visions of abortion-promotion, etc. that that is far from family planning programs in Congo.SANRU is a Christian organization and we present contraception (and aid in having children, in the case of sterility) in a Christian context of planning families.Abortion is illegal in Congo and deeply repugnant both to Christians and to Congolese cultural values.Currently the average size of Congolese families is 7 children, up from past years.This is not necessarily by choice, since families have gotten much poorer at the same time. Both tribal traditions and survival in a harsh environment mandate wide spacing of children.Early childbearing and childbearing late in life are risky to the health of both mother and child.While health professionals are good at explaining techniques and medicines to people who want them, and USAID wants to relieve the financial barriers in the short term, what really bothers many villagers are moral, cultural and theological questions about family planning.That's where we can help them sort things out.There is also deep ignorance about our bodies and how God designed them to work.
So we have spent much of this last year designing a program to integrate family planning education in our reading and teacher training programs.Because none of the meager existing material we could find was suitable, we had to create training manuals, visuals and reading books to use in each of our three local languages plus French.
In our teacher-training last October in Mupulu, about 25 miles from Lusekele and Vanga, we only taught literacy, since we hadn't started the family planning program yet.We started it this year, with three regional trainings:at Fatundu, in the Kikongo health zone, at Bengi, a Catholic church center in the Vanga health zone, both in Bandundu Province east of Kinshasa, and at Lukunga, in the Kimpese health zone, west of Kinshasa.Some of the churches which had attended the Mupulu training and had started classes weren't too far from Bengi, so we invited those teachers to come tell us how they were doing and shared the family planning component with them.
The family planning training has been enthusiastically received by Protestant and Catholic participants.Each time we present it, our teacher-trainees are loath to have the training end. If we gave personal counseling for family planning at the same time, they'd be lining up.Those who have started classes subsequently say that it really increases the enthusiasm of their students.One teacher told me that they have added a half hour of family planning teaching to every lesson (three times a week), by popular request!(Personally I can't see what they find to fill all that time since our training of them did not exceed 6 hours.Perhaps they are adding information on "living smart" in other areas of their lives.)Our Kinshasa classes are now clamoring to get it too, although SANRU's program does not cover them.
SANRU has subsidized reading books for our classes, something we have not been able to do.The basic cost of a reading book to a student is one dollar, a huge sum to rural people, and difficult even for city dwellers.In consequence, it's been rare for a student to invest in a book, and much harder for them to learn to read.
They have given us the chance to follow up with our teachers, something very important for their encouragement and trouble-shooting.Follow-up has been a key element in the success of reading programs in Kinshasa, and rural participants face many more problems than urban ones.While before, we were only able to follow up by correspondence, with this program we have been able to go back to each training site a couple of months later to meet with our teachers and do a short refresher course with them.It has made a huge difference in their success rate.
The first season has closed on these classes, we have presented our reports, and we are awaiting donor reactions to see if we can continue and expand adult literacy with a family planning emphasis to other places that want to start literacy programs next year.
In the meantime, God be praised!His mercy and love for his people has indeed been evident. We are blessed to be able to do this, through your support in many ways.We especially want to thank you for your support of our ministry through the World Mission Offering.