Strengthening Marriages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Pierre Ngandu Kasomboyi, and his wife, Vero Ngalula, have been married for more than 20 years. They are proud parents of 12 children. The couple says they’ve had a relatively happy marriage, but that isn’t the case for many couples in the Tendu neighborhood of the Kasansa Health Zone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai Oriental province, where Pierre and Vero live.
“Within the community, people don’t know how to live as couples,” Pierre says. “Even us, sometimes we have had problems, but we never knew how to resolve them in a good way.”
As couple facilitators of The Faithful House approach within CRS' Budikadidi project, Pierre and his wife Vero help other couples in their community in DRC to improve their relationships.
Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS
The couple was first introduced to Catholic Relief Service’s Faithful House program in 2017. Faithful House implements an approach to helping couples that is referred to as Strengthening Marriages and Relationships through Communication and Planning, or SMART. These activities are part of the Budikadidi project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Pierre and Vero wanted to get involved and help change the behavior of couples they knew in their community. They were trained to become Faithful House couples facilitators, learning how to coach, support and advise couples. Twice a month, they lead group coaching sessions for husbands and wives on various topics, including improved communication, joint decision-making, mutual faithfulness and respect. They also make house visits to check in on couples or mediate when disputes arise.
Couple facilitators Pierre and Vero lead a session on fidelity as part of a couples’ coaching session within CRS' Budikadidi project in DRC.
Photo by Michael Castofas for CRS
Pierre and Vero currently coach around 30 couples. Tendu, like many other communities targeted by Budikadidi Faithful House activities, is experiencing a gradual positive transformation in men's behavior towards their wives since 2017. In 2023, 92% of annual survey participants stated that married couples make decisions jointly about the use of livestock, land and basic farming tools. This is compared to 46% in 2018. Additionally, 86% of annual survey participants stated that men and women work together on household chores compared to 2% in 2018; and 81% reported sharing responsibility in all household matters compared to 2% in 2018.
Jean Bukasa and his wife, Therese Kapinga, say they have succeeded in having a happy marriage thanks to SMART couple sessions with Pierre and Vero.
“Growing up, we are taught by our fathers and other men that women are stupid, that we are superior to them,” Jean says. “But in fact, women, our wives, are our equals. So, it’s great to have discussions around this, to share ideas and good practices, and to talk through disputes.”
As one example, Jean explains that at the start of their marriage, he used to hide money from his wife because he thought of it as his not theirs. He never consulted her about how the money was spent. Frustrated, Therese says she would react negatively toward her husband, admittedly escalating their disputes.
Jean and Therese say their marriage has improved thanks to The Faithful House approach within CRS' Budikadidi project in DRC.
Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS
Today, the couple now share their income and decide together how to best use their money. This extends to other decisions that affect their family. Jean and Therese say they have both learned to have rational discussions that lead to outcomes that make them both happy.
“I learned many things about what it means to be a couple, to be in a relationship,” Therese says. “We don’t have as many problems as before, but we still like to come to these sessions so that we stay strong as a couple and continue to have a healthy marriage.”
Jean, who plans to raise his sons to respect women and show them what it means to be a good husband, says the biggest lesson he learned is that, “we are a team and we are stronger together.”
Budikadidi is a resilience and food security project that improves nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under the age of 5. The program was 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 Congo participated in the project's interventions. Catholic Relief Services led this 7-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 support with agriculture and livelihoods, nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene programs and governance. The integrated projects 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.