Meet The Women
Introducing Femme Berceau de l’Abondance, our key Congo partner:
Femme Berceau de l’Abondance (FEBA, French for Woman Cradle of Abundance) began in 1999 when an ecumenical Christian group of women in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, organized their own non-profit to respond to the systemic poverty and violence against women in the DRC. Led by its visionary president Monique Misenga Mukuna, Femme Berceau de l’Abondance has created a community where women gather to share their stories and envision breaking the cycle of poverty and violence.
Femme Berceau de l’Abondance responds to needs at all three levels: safety, education, and economic sufficiency. It implements a multifaceted approach to tackle complex and systemic problems of violence and poverty, and to empower women and girls to effect widespread, grassroots change.
Because the problems of crippling poverty and violence against women are complex and far-reaching, the approach of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance is multifaceted and growing.
- Counseling and Refuge - Survivors of rape and forced prostitution find regular counseling and support. Some women and girls need a safe place and currently live with President Maman Monique or other members. The new Women’s Center will not only provide appropriate privacy for counseling but also be able to shelter more women and girls.
- Medical Care - Femme Berceau de l’Abondance assists rape survivors in obtaining medical care. Some women have contracted HIV/AIDS from unfaithful spouses or from time spent in forced prostitution. The staff encourages testing, provides necessary medical treatment and follow-up appointments, and the regular nourishing meals that are necessary for HIV/AIDS medication to be effective. They also work to educate about the disease.
- Literacy and Human Rights - Many women and girls who come to Femme Berceau de l’Abondance are illiterate; most have at best the equivalent of a sixth grade education. Femme Berceau de l’Abondance provides these women with further education. Particularly these women gain new perspectives on their human rights in their context and realize that they have choices in dealing with domestic violence, forced early marriage, and other challenges.
- Community Support - Monthly gatherings give women and girls the opportunity to share their stories, worship, and boldly envision an altered future for themselves and their communities. There are also workshops where women learn methods for improved hygiene, micro-finance, and other practical skills.
- Children’s Education – Education is not free in Congo. Many orphans and children of widowed mothers lack the means for school fees, uniforms, and supplies. Femme Berceau de l’Abondance helps the children of members as far as its limited funds allow.
- Sewing School - When a woman has the means to support herself and her family, she not only has the dignity of a secure place in her community, she also has the means to educate her children. When she can save for a rainy day, she is not at the mercy of disaster.
Women in the community asked Maman Monique to start a sewing school – which was located in her home for seven years, until the new Women’s Center was built. There students learn a marketable trade and are able to pay their opportunity forward to their children. They learn the basics of sewing by hand, then master the use of a manual or treadle sewing machine and designing clothing.
- Micro-Savings and Micro-Finance - Most women never have a bank account, but they can bring their little earnings ($1-$5) to the monthly gatherings of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance where each member can have her own micro-savings book. Small groups of women also benefit from a micro-loan program when funds are available.
Femme Berceau de l’Abondance Officers
- Monique Misenga Mukuna – President
- Bitota Angelique Ngoyi – Treasurer
- Jeannette Adiyo – Head of Sewing School
- Antoinette Muleka Tshisuaka – Director of Medical Care
- Henriette Kibadi Nzeyi – Medical Care and School Children Program
- Ernestine Mianda Kashala – Literacy Teacher
- Denise Ngome-Sakisa – Pastoral Counselor
- Marie-Jeanne Kapinga Kayuwa – Secretary Emerita
- Agnes Anekumba Umadjela – Treasurer Emerita
Monique Misenga Mukuna
Monique, the president of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance, has been the visionary, the networking genius, and the motivating center. Growing up as one of fourteen children, Monique was fortunate to have a Christian father lacking his society’s gender bias about female subordination, and who chose to educate his daughters as well as his sons. Monique excelled in secondary school and went to the university in Kinshasa. She graduated well and began her career teaching at the secondary level. Monique met and married a man much like her father, one who shared atypical views about women and supported her work. They diligently educated all nine of their children; the youngest graduated from university in 2017.
To support their growing family, Monique decided to leave teaching to begin a tailoring business, which yielded early success. Monique was also chosen to represent her Presbyterian church as the new director for the Department of Women and Families, a position she would hold for the next fifteen years without compensation. To support her family and her continued work, she maintained her tailoring business. Over the years, Monique expanded the Women’s Center to include a tailoring school, training in agricultural practices and animal husbandry, education in women’s rights, organization of micro-credit projects, programs to feed and assist street children with school fees and uniforms, and support and help for violated women and people living with HIV/AIDS. She represented her church as a leader internationally, including at Harare in 1998, and in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches. She has spoken to European and North American audiences about the humanitarian crisis in the DRC, seeking reconciliation for the DRC as well as Sierra Leone and Rwanda.
Regrettably, Monique’s growing international recognition was perceived as a threat by male church leaders, who eventually suspended her as Director of the Department of Women and Families. She began to recreate her work for abused women and children under the aegis of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance, starting by taking ten women and girls and two babies into her home. She reestablished the sewing school in a covered courtyard of her own home, until the opening of the new Women’s Center Tomisunga in 2017. She continues to welcome and all who come to seek counsel and assistance.
Jeannette is the head of FEBA/WCOA sewing school. She was the eldest of ten children of a family living in Kinshasa. Her parents died when she was 24 and she was left to care for her younger siblings. She married but because of ill health she did not have children of her own; however, she brought up her baby sister as her daughter. Jeannette completed secondary school with a major in sewing. After some years of caring for her family, she came to be the main partner of Maman Monique in the sewing school. She says she learned much from Monique, expanding her own knowledge as Monique creatively imagined more things that the women could sew and sell. Jeannette is very concerned about the needs of the young girls – mostly illiterate – who come to the sewing school. She also emphasizes how essential it is for these totally destitute young women that the FEBA/WCOA school provides the materials as well as the training. It is a big financial responsibility for the school, but it also means that those who had no hope can look forward to a good future.
Antoinette Muleka Tshisuaka
Antoinette serves as medical advisor and health teacher. She completed her secondary education and did further training as both nurse and laboratory technician. When she moved to Kinshasa with her husband, a doctor at the national blood bank, Antoinette also began work at the blood bank where she felt poignantly the plight of mothers bringing young children for transfusions, including treatment for sickle cell anemia. She observed that the burden of care fell consistently on mothers while father were glaringly absent. She also saw that the problems of sickle cell anemia caused enormous suffering to families, and works to help educate parents and the women and girls of FEBA/WCOA to understand how the disease is inherited and avoid risky marriages.
For many years Antoinette has worked with Monique for many years. After her husband’s death she was very much involved with the ministry of widows in the Presbyterian church. One of her main activities with FEBA/WCOA has been assisting with the HIV/AIDS program of consciousness raising and accompaniment. She also is a teacher in the sewing school to provide general health education and “life skills” for the young women.
Henriette Kibadi Nzeyi
Henriette works with the AIDS program and the educational work for children who are studying in formal schools. Her childhood in Kinshasa was very difficult. Her great uncle was the chief of his village some distance from the city, and he controlled all the family. He owned some slaves, children sold away from their villages (perhaps to enable their families to survive a famine? Or pay a debt?), and the son of these slaves was Henriette’s father. Her mother was the niece of the chief, who insisted that his niece marry his slave so that he would control her children. (A slave no longer had his own family/ village which could claim the children.) It was not a happy marriage, though six children were born; Henriette was the oldest, with four brothers and one sister. Her mother left, her father remarried, and she and her siblings were abandoned. So Henriette could not complete secondary school, and she had to sell sugar cane or fruit in the street to support herself and her sister. She managed to get training as a nursing assistant to work at a hospital. Eventually she married a fine school teacher and they had six sons. Two have become mechanics, the others have gone on to higher education. Henriette herself knows the challenges of living hand-to-mouth. She helps supplement her family’s income by making jewelry and hats. One of her activities for FEBA/WCOA is raising consciousness about HIV/AIDS and helping those who are living with the disease. She also visits the schools where orphans or destitute children supported by the non-profit are studying, and sees that their fees are paid, and works with the flour mill.
Ernestine Mianda Kashala
Ernestine Mianda is the literacy teacher. She was born and grew up in the Kasai but her father died when she was a baby. She and her mother and sister went to live with an uncle who was kind to her but other relatives sometimes mocked her. Ernestine Mianda attended secondary school but her family lacked the means to enable her to finish. She married and moved to Kinshasa where she and her husband reared and educated their eight children through university (four have master’s degrees). Though she lacked the high school diploma which is the only official certificate of education, Mianda is intelligent and made very good use of what she knew and went on learning more. In time she was able to go back to school for some specialized training as a kindergarten teacher and then as a literacy teacher. She also helped support her family by doing a small business. Her own childhood was not easy so she is very much concerned to help children whose families have not been able to care for them well and educate them. She is the lively teacher of FEBA/WCOA’s young girls. Soon she will be teaching children who have been forced to drop out of school because they have no money to pay, so that they can get up to grade level and return to school.
Denise Ngombe Sakisa
Denise is the pastoral counselor. She was originally from the Katanga, one of six children (five girls) in the family. Her father encouraged her in her education and she completed secondary school with a program in dietetics. She was married to a more highly educated man who had studied in Europe, and with him she lived in various African countries and Brussels. They had seven children, all of whom they have educated through university; one daughter is a medical doctor, several have master’s degrees. Denise’s husband abused her in many ways, physical and mental, and her in-laws mocked her as worthless for not being as well educated as her husband. Only her children were supportive. Denise had had a dream of further education and so she went back to study theology at university, and then (even as she struggled with ill health and family reproach) completed her master’s. She would like to go on for further education in ethics and counseling. Denise is a powerful voice of preaching and counsel for abused girls and women.
Odette’s family lived in a rural area in the Kasai province, a considerable distance from the capital city of Kinshasa. Her family earned a subsistence living through farming, which is women’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Odette’s husband moved to the capital to look for work with the plan that she and the children would follow. While he was waiting for his family, he took up with another woman and contracted AIDS. When Odette moved with the children to the city, he kept his infidelity and the infection a secret from her.
Femme Berceau de l’Abondance has trained women to raise consciousness about AIDS, to identify the signs and help victims get testing and medicine, and to accompany those living with the disease. One of them saw Odette and invited her to be tested. She was afraid. She also had to ask her husband’s permission and he said “no” because he knew he had infected her; he threatened the women of FEBA/WCOA. (Maman Monique said, “Let him take me to court!”) Finally Odette was persuaded to go for testing. The result was positive. She fainted and then was furious with her husband. Maman Monique prayed with her and counseled her through the whole process. WCOA helped Odette with medicine and food and a small micro-loan. She lived with Monique for a time, and WCOA continues to accompany her and help her educate her children.
Susanne Olokwa Makazo
Susanne is the daughter of a Congolese woman and a Belgian man. When her father returned to Belguim, her mother abandoned her to relatives. She was left with the family of her mother’s Congolese husband, who did not value an illegitimate girl child who was not blood kin. While she was able to attend elementary school, the traditional path for women forced her into early marriage. In her teens Susanne was virtually sold to men: first to her uncle’s boss, and then to a husband who consistently and violently abused her. She had nine children with this man, who is unemployed.
Susanne managed to feed her children but could not afford school fees or uniforms for their education, so they have few options. Facing a life of poverty without an education, her daughters turned to prostitution. Susanne came to Femme Berceau de l’Abondance seeking a way to trace her Belgian father, not to ask for money but to find someone to whom she can belong. At Femme Berceau de l’Abondance she participates in monthly meetings, where she finds comfort and courage.
Agnes Anekumba Umadjela
Agnes Anekumba Umadjela, the respected treasurer emerita of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance and its eldest living founder, completed the six years of primary school and then studied midwifery. In the period when she was growing up it was unusual for girls to continue to secondary school, which was conducted in French. They were lucky to receive any training beyond elementary school, and were usually married off in their early or mid-teens. After completing her midwifery training, Agnes began work. She interrupted this after her marriage, when the first of her eight children was born, but later returned to her profession. When Agnes’ family moved to Kinshasa, she became a midwife at the General Hospital of Kinshasa where she worked until her retirement.
Born and raised a Methodist, Agnes has served her church in a number of different capacities, especially in women’s groups as well as in the larger community. She has held various offices at the local and national levels of the Methodist Women’s Association, and in the governing bodies of the United Methodist Church in the DRC. She has traveled in Kenya, and was her church’s representative to the Harare meeting of the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women which was the catalyst for the founding of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance.
One key role Agnes has filled in all her work is that of counselor to women. She and her husband have a very good marriage and strong family life. Since family is at the root of every relationship in Congo, women, girls, and younger couples consult Agnes about their marital and family issues.
Marie Jeanne Kapinga Kayuwa
Marie Jeanne is the executive secretary emerita, a professional woman whose educational background includes studying administration in Belgium. She worked as a secretary at the Congolese embassy for several years, during which time she married and had her first two children. When the embassy downsized its staff, Marie Jeanne creatively set out to establish an international import business, buying luxury items in Europe and selling them in the DRC.
Marie Jeanne’s small business was doing well when her unemployed husband persuaded her to let him play a role. He had plans to return to Kinshasa, the DRC’s capital city, for his mother’s funeral and took Marie Jeanne’s goods with him, promptly appropriating her goods and living on the proceeds with another woman. Still in Belgium, Marie Jeanne found any way possible to earn a living for herself and her children and finally paid back her commercial loans. She returned to Kinshasa seeking a divorce, but because of negative connotations associated with divorce, her family and church convinced her to stay in the marriage. Marie Jeanne worked as a secretary in government civil service and had three more children with her husband, who never secured employment in spite of the many efforts of family members to help him. Finally fed up after twenty years, Marie Jeanne told him to leave, and when he dragged his feet she packed up his things and moved him out. She continues to work as a secretary in the administration of the national Parliament and has provided all of her children an excellent education.
Serving as a minister in her home church, Marie Jeanne became the director of women’s work and the youth division. The Church of Jesus Christ Light of the Holy Spirit ordains women as pastors and deaconesses more readily than many African churches, but their leadership is not universally accepted, and she has seen and dealt with discrimination in her service. In her community, she seeks to encourage the growth of women’s self esteem and independence at their weekly prayer meetings, including making food and goods for sale, and developing market gardens to support families. When the World Council of Churches launched the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women, Marie Jeanne represented her church internationally. Marie Jeanne’s church and professional experience have made her an invaluable asset to Femme Berceau de l’Abondance.