Adult Literacy Opportunities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Annie Biuma, a mother of six, smiles as she reads aloud from her lesson book, outside her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She has just come from one of her classes at the Morning Start Literacy Center, which teaches community members who never had the chance to go to school to read, write and do basic arithmetic. The literacy classes are part of Catholic Relief Services’ Budikadidi project, funded by USAID.

“When I was younger, I went to school for a very short time, but then my dad died, and I couldn’t go back to school,” Annie says. “I had to stay home and help my mother with the housework. I forgot what I learned before leaving school. But I always wanted to learn to read and write.”


woman practices reading outside her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Annie Biuma practices reading outside her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Forced to drop out of school as a child, she now attends adult literacy classes as part of CRS’ Budikadidi project.

Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS


Annie is not alone. An estimated 36% of women in the region say they never learned to read or write. Low literacy rates can be a major barrier to women’s participation in livelihood activities, such as market gardening, raising livestock and community-level decision-making.

Willy Kayamba, one of two volunteer tutors at the center, says that at first, some students were hesitant to come.

“Some were embarrassed or ashamed to come to school at their old age,” he says. “Others had other work to do and didn’t want to lose time cultivating their fields or selling at the market. But once people saw how these classes were changing the lives of the pupils, they started to come. And now they are happy to be here.”

When Annie heard an adult literacy center was opening in her community, she knew she wanted to come for classes. Through the project, her husband learned about the benefits that women attending literacy classes can bring to a household and he encouraged her to participate. So Annie began attending classes.

“I wanted to learn what they [other women and my children] were learning,” she says. “So that’s what motivated me to join this school.”


woman practices spelling out words at the Morning Star Literacy Center in DRC

Annie Biuma practices spelling out words at the Morning Star Literacy Center in the Mukendi II village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of CRS' Budikadidi program.

Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS


Annie can now recognize letters and numbers, read simple sentences, and perform basic arithmetic. The math skills are particularly important she says, as there have been times in the past when she has been cheated at the market because she was unable to calculate correct change.

“But now, no one can take advantage of me anymore,” Annie says. “I still have much left to learn, but I know the basics now. I am happy to be like the others in my community who can also do this. I am finally proud of myself.”

Today, Annie works alongside her husband to sell produce from their farms, manages their household income, and is an active participant in community development activities. She has more than tripled her profit and was recently elected as the vice president of the Community Animation Committee, which helps coordinate development activities in her village.

“So really, thanks to the teachers here,” she says. “They are saving us. They are helping us. They are helping our community.”


Budikadidi, which means "self-sufficiency" in the local language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a Catholic Relief Services project funded by the United States Agency for International Development through its Department of Humanitarian Assistance. More than 87,500 households across 484 villages in the Kasai Oriental province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo participated in the project's interventions. CRS led this seven-year project in partnership with the National Cooperative Business Association, Sun Mountain International, Tufts University, Caritas Mbuji-Mayi, ReFED, and Reseau des Associations Congolaises des Jeunes, to deliver multi-sectoral programming, including agriculture and livelihoods, nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, and governance. The integrated activities are based on global evidence and appropriately adapted to the local context, working to strengthen existing systems, improve accountability, strengthen social cohesion, and reduce barriers to structural, cultural and gender-based change.