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Democratic Republic of Congo

Map of Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the largest countries in Africa – roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River.  The ongoing power struggle for government control between militias and rebel groups has led to extreme violence, corruption and a deteriorated economy.

Through years of civil war, many Congolese have experienced discrimination, displacement, violence, and poverty.  Women and children, in particular, have been victims of rape.  Men, women, and boys have been forced to fight in rebel and militia groups.  Fierce fighting continues in the Congo and many citizens have fled to refugee camps and to the United States.  Today, over 100 Congolese live in Vermont.

There are an estimated total of 242 languages spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Out of these, only four have the status of national languages: Kikongo (Kituba), Lingala, Tshiluba, and Swahili.  From the 1960′s to the 1990′s, French was the official language of the country.  It is now meant to be an ethnically neutral language, to facilitate communication among the many different ethnic groups of the Congo.

Christianity is the majority religion practiced by about 80% of the population.  Of the remaining 20%, half are Muslim, and the rest follow traditional beliefs.  Traditional religions embody such concepts as monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft and vary widely among ethnic groups.  Many Congolese merge Christianity with more traditional beliefs and rituals.

Many Congolese believe that both physical and mental illnesses are brought on to an individual by a curse or a punishment from God.  Many believe that mental illness will never go away and that it is a permanent curse on that particular person’s entire family.

Traditional healing methods are very common in the Congolese culture.  Often Congolese consult elders, churches and indigenous healers when problems arise.  Sometimes Congolese will even consult both physicians and traditional healers for the same issue.  Herbs, plants, and prayer are common cures for various ailments.  It is common for sick people with limited or no access to health facilities to sit in churches waiting to be cured by God.  The first reaction to signs of mental illness is often traditional ritual or prayer.  Generally, it is generally only as a last recourse that the Congolese will consult a psychiatrist.

Issues of mental illness, including depression, post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and drug addictions have emerged in this population.  Child soldiers and women are among the most vulnerable victims of Congo’s war.

Democratic Republic of Congo -Kinshasa: Cultural Considerations in Working with DRC-Kinshasa Refugees