Women's Literacy and Technology in Vanga - A New World of Opportunities

In a little village in Bandundu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Sunday evenings are full of activities at the Community Resource Learning Center. In the past the center housed a cafeteria, and a meeting place which the village used occasionally, such as when the women of Vanga would gather to conduct literacy classes on Tuesdays. In the summer of 2003, the Community Resource Learning Center was inaugurated (see previous article). Now, after receiving computer training and learning to search the web, the women are coming up with new ideas and supplementing their literacy training with efforts to find funding for additional income generating projects. For example, the women have decided to form a sewing group to start a micro- enterprise that will produce and sell clothes.

“It is so nice to see how we have come together, and are exchanging ideas,” one woman said recently. “It is also very nice to have a women teach us how to use technology, it has definitely empowered us and made us realize there are so many things out there we can learn.”

The Center is a pilot project sponsored by USAID, working in collaboration with both the Education Development Center (EDC) and the Academy for Educational Development (AED). The goal of the project is to improve the basic education of women and girls using technology.

Initial Steps
In the beginning the women were a little fearful of visiting the center. To make them comfortable, a special time was set aside for them to use the computer lab. Sunday night seemed to be the most appropriate time for the women in this particular community. The women usually did not have as many chores that night, and they would not be too tired since they do not usually go to the fields on Sunday. With this decision, Sunday became “Women’s Day” at the center.

When the Community Resource Learning Center was being planned, the women worried that they would no longer have a place to meet for their literacy classes. Displacing the women’s literacy group could not have been furthest from the project’s objectives. Indeed, when interviewing prospective staff for the center, the project staff made sure that the team of trainers to be hired included a qualified woman who was trusted by the women in the community and would ensure that the women’s literacy needs were met.

Local Champion
Marie-Jeanne wa Musiti, a well-respected and capable single mother, is the trainer chosen to help the women in their literacy classes.

Sonia Arias & Marie-Jeanne wa Musiti Marie-Jeanne’s first step was to teach the women the different parts of the computer and to introduce them to the Internet. She then taught them to use different search engines to research topics of interest to them, such as sewing tips and African recipes. Prior to the establishment of the Center, the literacy trainers had limited didactic materials and resources. As a result, retaining these busy mothers in literacy classes was a challenge. With the introduction of computers and access to the Internet, not only do the women keep coming to the Center to read and to use the computers as a research tool, but the new technology is helping the women discover the world beyond Vanga.

Marie-Jeanne’s success as a trainer has been evident in the number of women visiting the center each Sunday night. Women from nearby villages have also started using the center, bringing the average literacy class attendance to fifty!

Lessons Learned
  • The careful selection of a woman trainer who would be well accepted by the women in the community and who would be able to generate enthusiasm and confidence among the women in the community was critical to the project’s success in supporting women and girl’s literacy.

  • Information technology, and more specifically, computers and access to the Internet, provide essential motivational benefits.

  • Careful attention must be paid to the time constraints facing the target audience. In this case, it was necessary to set a specific time aside to address the women’s needs.

EDC, under dot-EDU, was awarded the DR Congo ICTs and Education: Community Learning Centers and Complementary Instructional Strategies in September, 2002 for 12 months (Award No. 623-A-00-02- 00114-00 under the dot-EDU Leader Award No: GDG-A-00-01-00011-00).

For More Information, Contact:
Kathy Ntalaja
Chief-of-Party, DRC ICT in Education Project, Education Development Center

DOT-COM: Sonia Arias
Project Director, Education Development Center
Tel: 202-572-3700

Related DOT-COM Activity
DRC - Complementary Instructional Strategies and Community Learning and Resource Center in DRC
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
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Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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