Meet The Women
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 Woman, Cradle of Abundance seeking a way to trace her Belgian father, not to ask for money but to find someone to whom she can belong. At Woman, Cradle of Abundance she participates in monthly meetings, where she finds comfort and courage.
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.
Odette’s symptoms began after her husband’s death. She couldn’t reconcile the idea, but was finally convinced by Antoinette at Woman, Cradle of Abundance to be tested; after she was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS Antoinette helped her acquire medication and begin treatment. Monique, the organization’s president, took Odette into her home and provided nourishing food which, with the medicine, has given her a new chance at life. Woman, Cradle of Abundance provides educational support for Odette’s children, and her son is studying at the university.
Monique Misenga Mukuna
Monique, the president of Woman, Cradle of Abundance, 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 of whom are completing their higher education.
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 Woman, Cradle of Abundance, starting by taking ten women and girls and two babies into her home. She reestablished the sewing school in her yard, and continues to welcome all who come seek counsel and assistance.
Antoinette Muleka Tshisuaka
Antoinette is the director of medical work and is a retired nurse. She completed her secondary education and achieved her education in the medical field to become a nurse and laboratory technician. She worked for a number of years in her home province before moving to the capital city of Kinshasa. She spent the remainder of her professional career in the national blood bank office, 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 fathers were glaringly absent.
Antoinette married an older widower, who was a doctor at the blood bank. Theirs was a happy marriage, and since his death Antoinette has served the widows at her Presbyterian church. Working with Woman, Cradle of Abundance, Antoinette provides medical care for people living with HIV/AIDS and educates the community about the disease
Agnes Anekumba Umadjela
Agnes Anekumba Umadjela, the respected treasurer of Woman, Cradle of Abundance 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 Woman, Cradle of Abundance.
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, 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 Woman, Cradle of Abundance.