Undergraduate Programs for 80 Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Project location: Congo, Democratic Republic, Kwango
Project start date: June 2011 - Project end date: July 2014
Project number: 2011-27

This project is in cooperation with the institution of higher education of Medical Techniques (ISTM) Marie Reine de la Paix, and with the Diocese of Kienge, and consisted in a three years higher education program for eighty women.

The eighty women who were selected to study at the Institute were all very poor and could not afford to pay for the school fees, yet they have proven to have good will and basic preparation as well as a strong desire to study, also for the sake of their country. In order to gain access to higher education, the 80 beneficiaries had to earn a scientific degree giving them notions of pedagogy, biology, mathematics, chemistry and social sciences.

Currently, about 70 percent of local health care facilities in the Kwango region consist of wooden huts with thatched roofs and there are no rules of hygiene nor qualified staff. Sometimes hospitals are run by nuns who do their best to assist their patients, but without any of the fundamental technical skills.

For example, there is a serious shortage in gynecologists and obstetrics, which is the reason why the rate of neonatal and maternal mortality is very high. In fact, while giving birth, women are usually assisted by old midwives, often illiterate. It was only in the recent years that the health emergency and structural shortcomings were taken into account by the Ministry of Health, who has adopted a strategy to improve the health care system (SRSS): a first step in the fight against poverty, aiming to provide equipped hospitals and qualified personnel.

After three years of study, the eighty women involved in this project will become professional nurses or midwives. Following the graduation, they will be hired by the State's hospital, starting with a short internship period of six months.

This specific step is made easier by the medical inspector of the Province of Kwango who is also one of the teachers at the Technical Institute and member of the Examining Board.

The first school year, from October 2011 to June 2012, begun with an introductory meeting during which the participants chose the area of study that best suits their interests and aspirations (nurse or midwife), then classes started. Students were given two opportunities to take their exams: one session in July, at the end of the school year, and September, immediately before the start of the second year. For some of them, and just for the first year, it was possible to take one mid-term exam, in the month of February. The students who failed their exams in the first session had the chance to repeat the tests in subsequent ones. The second year started from October 2012 and it finished in June 2013 and the third and last year started form October 2013 until June 2014.

At the end of the third year, as in the case of the Italian university, girls are expected to discuss their thesis before a committee of faculty members.

The hope is for these women to not only fight against illiteracy, but to also safeguard the health of their belonging communities by working against all those epidemics which can become fatal if not treated with due care. Hundreds still die from malaria, tuberculosis, scabies, anemia, filariasis, intestinal parasites and sleeping sickness, which brings to death in almost every case.

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