Improving Health Care in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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It’s early morning in Munzo village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some two dozen women and their young children sit in a circle around a large metal pot. They have come today for a cooking demonstration to learn how to make fortified porridge using locally available and affordable ingredients.


mothers' health gathering in DRC

Therese Mujinga, a lead mother in CRS' Budikadidi project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, teaches mothers to make fortified porridge during a cooking demonstration.

Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS


Standing at the center is Thérèse Mujinga, one of the lead mothers of Budikadidi, a project implemented by Catholic Relief Services with funding from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Lead mothers, known locally as Mamans Lumières, are community volunteers trained on best nutritional and health practices for pregnant and nursing women, and children under age 5. They are tasked with passing on their knowledge to others in their communities.

“I decided to become a Maman Lumiere because when I became a mother many years ago, there were so many things that I did not know,” Thérèse says. “There are so many ways to improve the health of our kids that no one ever told us. Our children were always sick, and malnourished. Some died. Women had bad pregnancies. It was not good.”


young boy and health worker in DRC

Therese Mujinga, a lead mother in CRS’ Budikadidi project, screens a young boy for malnutrition.

Michael Castofas for CRS


This is now changing with Budikadidi. Thanks to activities like this cooking demonstration and regular home visits, families are positively changing their behavior. Sixty-one percent of women participating in Budikadidi reported having healthier diets in 2023 compared to 21% in 2018. And knowledge of essential nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene practices, as well as pre- and post-natal care, increased to 68% in 2023 from 50% in 2018.

Whether it is advice on childhood nutrition, hygiene, pregnancy or breastfeeding practices—among other health issues—women participants say they trust what lead mothers say even when it is something new, because the lead mothers come from within their community.

mother feeds her daughter in DRC

Solange Balengela feeds her 12-month-old daughter fortified porridge following a cooking demonstration led by lead mothers. Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS

As they wait for the water to boil, the women around the pot listen attentively, asking questions. Thérèse first explains the importance of proper nutrition for the growth of their children. She talks about which ingredients have which nutrients and how they contribute to good health. Packed with protein, vitamins and other key nutrients, this porridge helps children over the age of six months achieve proper growth and reduces the risk of malnutrition. 

A few mothers are invited to help prepare the porridge and Thérèse walks them through the recipe steps. For some of the mothers, this is their first time making the porridge. For others, this is a refresher course. Over the course of the project, lead mothers offered 1,941 cooking demonstrations, reaching 27,651 community members.

Solange Balengela, a mother of three, first learned to make the porridge two years ago.

“I thought it was going to be expensive or difficult, but it isn’t at all,” Solange says. “And my children love it. Before, they were sometimes malnourished. But since I started following the Maman Lumiere’s advice, my children are in better health. I understand the importance of the food that they eat.”

A few hours later, with the fortified porridge being scooped into bowls for everyone to taste, Thérèse walks among them, smiling.

“When CRS first approached us with this chance to learn good practices and share them with others, I was very intrigued,” she recalls. “Even if my children are already grown, there are still many young women having children and many children in our community. They are our future. So that is why I want to give them the best chance at life.”



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.