From Tragedy to Action

A Grieving Sister Helps Women in Congo Plan Their Families

By Alice Mushagalusa, Department of Research, ASF

When her sister died, Marthe knew she had to do something.

Under a scorching sun, she walks towards the Clinic Santé La Vie, in the municipality of Ndjili, Kinshasa, where a group of women sits patiently waiting for her under a tree.

“I am one of the ‘Mamans Confiance’, therefore you can trust the information that I am going to share with you” Marthe says.

Wearing a blue vest with the word “Confiance” embroidered on front, she stands before them and presents the women with an available range of family planning options. She holds up each item and explains how to use it and long it will last to prevent pregnancy. Then she distributes referral cards to the potential clients, so they can consider their choices and easily follow up.

Marthe, a community organizer in her fifties, lives in Lemba with her nephews and nieces. The 12 children of her late sister are her responsibility now.

“My sister was desperate to have sons, no matter the state of her own health,” Marthe says sadly as she talks about the toll childbearing took on her sister’s body. At the time, Marthe knew nothing about family planning. But her sister’s death was a turning point.

Determined to help women like her sister “no longer bring children in into the world under worse and worse conditions every year,” in 2011 Marthe trained to be a community mobilizer by the Association de Santé Familiale (ASF), Population Services International’s affiliate network member in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It was too late to save her sister. But Marthe is very proud of her work and the women she is able to help.

However, she acknowledges it isn’t always easy.

“During an educational session one time, my partner and I were attacked and insulted by a group of young boys from Pakadjuma,” she says. “They shouted at us, ‘It’s because of you that our girls prostitute themselves because they know they will not become pregnant.’”

Marthe and her teammate were able to get away without harm. But unfortunately her experience is not uncommon.

A 2015 ASF/PSI study found that family planning is considered by many within the population of Kinshasa as a cause of prostitution and infidelity. According to the study, since family planning users are not afraid of pregnancy, they therefore feel free to change sexual partners at any time.

Marthe shakes her head. The slurs and rumors only serve to strengthen her resolve. She sees resistance as a reason to redouble her efforts to bring people the correct message about family planning.

“I can raise awareness of all these women.”