Photo of René Kwaka Mbangu and François Kimbuibi Munganga
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Local Pastor Teams with Nonprofit to Promote Behavior Change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Apr 20, 2015

KINSHASA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO – When Jean René Kwaka Mbangu and François Kimbuibi Munganga arrived at the bustling Mt Ngafula market on the outskirts of Kinshasa, they quickly realized that their voice – let alone their message about the importance of reproductive health, family planning, and child and maternal health – would not be heard above the bustle of daily activity and the clamor to get the promotional T-shirts they brought with them to give away. Luckily, they work for a US-based nonprofit that believes promoting change around the world requires alternative, sometimes unique, approaches.

Jean René and François work for Population Media Center (PMC), a nonprofit working globally to address health and human rights issues through entertainment, specifically long-running dramas on radio and TV. They were in Mt Ngafula to promote PMC’s newest radio drama in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elembo (“Footprint”).

“We wanted to notify people about this opportunity to listen to a great new radio program for entertainment, but also to learn social and health information that isn’t available to many people in their everyday lives,” says Jean René, producer of an upcoming PMC drama in the Congo. “But the bustle of the market would have made it impossible to communicate effectively.”

Jean René and François , the producer of Elembo, relied on spontaneity and flexibility. An impassioned pastor, Deis Musema Makila, suggested that they come to the evening service at Cry of the Conquerors church instead, which resulted in a jubilant congregation celebrating and discussing the merits of family planning. It was an ideal platform to energize and rally community members.

“In our church, we do a great job of outreach to unemployed youth, tempted by crime, and to many young unmarried mothers abandoned to their fate,” says Deis. “On reading the flyer about Elembo, I realized that the topics covered in the series, such as reproductive health among adolescents and the health of the mother and child, were the same concerns we face. For us, the lessons contained in the soap opera are like a support to the teaching we provide in our preaching and in the moral sessions we have with our faithful.”

After prayer, songs, and dance, François was invited to speak. Moved by the atmosphere of community and energy, he took the podium and drew on the dramatic nature of the radio drama to engage the audience with the drama’s intrigue and plot twists. He pointed to a banner with the radio stations and times of airing for the next 1.5 years and explained that, not only did Elembo promise to entertain them, but it also promised to give them more information about health issues, especially for mothers and children, and family planning. The congregation erupted in cheers and applause as he left the podium.

“I spoke from the heart,” says François, “announcing the good news of behavior change. When I described the storylines, I asked ‘Is it like this here? Do you have these problems here?’ and people said ‘Ezali bongo’ which means ‘Yes, it’s like that! It’s true!’ and others simply said ‘Amen!’ It was after the service, when we were able to speak individually with people, that we learned that most of the young girls who were present felt that one of the characters, Eyenga, was a storyline directly about them.”

Elembo is written and produced in Lingala, one of the five national languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Congo, contraceptives and modern health services are not widely used.

In talking with Jean René and François, Pastor Deis immediately asserted the importance of family planning for the members of his congregation, who he saw struggling to provide for themselves and their families, especially a large number of girls and young women. After François’ speech, Deis went to the podium to give the sermon, which revolved around the messages of Elembo.

He spoke about God’s address in Genesis to “go forth and multiply” and explained that this was a way to recommend that people leave evidence of their passage on Earth and that this should be further interpreted.

“As children of God, it [is] necessary to leave marks or positive signs during our stay on this Earth,” said Deis. “For our children are traces we leave on Earth, and we must therefore ensure their well-being.”

He reiterated the importance of family planning to allow for healthy mothers and healthy, educated children. He also emphasized that the first sign God sent to people was passed through his son to convert people – to change behavior – just as Elembo aims to do now.

“He invited us to one of the meetings that the church organizes on Tuesdays and which is attended by mothers,” says Jean René. “He also wanted us to extend our activities to other churches in the town and elsewhere because of the need for these messages.”


The radio drama Elembo is funded by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), UNICEF, the US Embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC), and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).