The following videos are for Congolese refugees in the U.S., providing instruction on various aspects of healthcare processes in the U.S. Topics range from navigating the healthcare system to healthy pregnancy and birth control to mental health to healing after perpetrating gender-based violence. This may be a great resource to share with the families with whom you work. Each video is in Kiswahili, but if you do not understand, you can easily put on your CC in English. There are many videos, so feel free to click through!


Cultural Overview: Democratic Republic of the Congo

DISCLAIMER: We have borrowed this extensive breakdown of Democratic Republic of the Congo from the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL). What follows is not a reflection of our own work; rather, it is offered to you as a resource we found incredibly useful from an organization we highly respect. Because these are not our own words, we ask that you only use this information as a broadly-painted picture of the complex situations from which our clients come. Please use this information as a first step in a long process of understanding, recognizing that the family or individual with whom you work may have different experiences or personalities that may not be mentioned here. Broad generalities do help us understand backgrounds, but they should not dictate how we see our clients.

ETHNIC GROUPS: There are more than 200 ethnic groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), most of which are Bantu. The four largest tribes are the Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu- Azande (Hamitic). These four tribes make up 45% of the total population.

GEOGRAPHY: The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in Central Africa and is slightly less than one-fourth the size of the United States. It borders Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, the Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The capital of the DRC is Kinshasa, which is located on the western side of the country.

HISTORY: The Democratic Republic of the Congo was once a colony of Belgium. In pre-colonial times, the territory was home to many independent states and cultures before their arbitrary incorporation into the territory by the Belgians. The colony took its name from the Kongo, a state in present day Angola. Originally under the direct control of Belgium’s King Leopold, the government of Belgium took control of the colony after the human rights abuses from the economic exploitation escalated. In 1959, Belgium reluctantly announced that the DRC would receive independence in one year. Political parties, formerly banned, were legalized, and many regional leaders emerged vying for leadership. Patrice Lumumba, who became the country’s first president, was one of the few leaders with arguably national appeal. However, his centralizing approach to the government in the DRC combined with his firm anti-imperial rhetoric soon aroused fears of regional advocates within the country and Cold War concerns of the West.

In 1960, the Congolese army mutinied, and Katanga province attempted to break away starting a civil war. Lumumba asked for U.N. assistance, but was quickly frustrated after the troops did little to reunite the country. He then asked the Soviet Union for assistance. However, this confirmed western fears of Lumumba’s communist leanings. The United States authorized a Belgium assassination of Lumumba. The U.S.-backed general Mobutu came to power soon after in 1965.

Renaming the country Zaire, Mobutu ushered in an intense program of Africanization and economic exploitation of the country. During this time, resistance grew, escalating after 1994 when neighboring Rwanda was torn apart by genocide directed against the Tutsis by Hutu extremists. In 1997, the anti-Mobutu coalition led by Laurent Kabila overthrew Mobutu and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite winning back the country, conflict soon arose amongst the former allies. In 1998, rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda rose against Kabila’s government. Kabila was in turn supported by Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia, yet the war, often called Africa’s World War, continued as the rebels split into two main parties: the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) supported by Uganda, and the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) with the backing of Rwanda.

In 2000 the U.N. Security Council authorized the U.N. to monitor a ceasefire, but fighting continued. In 2001 Laurent Kabila was killed and his son, Joseph Kabila, was chosen to head the interim government. Later that year, Rwanda, Uganda, and the rebels agreed to a U.N. pull-out plan, starting a gradual end to the war, which had claimed over 2.5 million lives since 1998 from fighting and war induced conditions.

The war in Congo has had an economic side as well. Since colonial times, economic exploitation of the country’s vast mineral wealth has been common. The Belgians were infamous for their exploitation of the country’s rubber resources. After independence the most valued resources became diamonds and the mineral coltan (short for Columbite-tantalite), which is used to hold electric charges in cell phones, TVs, computer discs, and other electronics. Rebel groups and allied countries’ armies all sought to monopolize these resources and illegally sell them to outside markets. The problem of conflict diamonds and coltan exploitation continue today.

In mid 2002, peace agreements were signed between the DRC and Rwanda, and later Uganda. Sporadic conflict continued, but in 2003 a new constitution was implemented. Kabila’s government, with a power-sharing agreement with the former rebel leaders, would rule for two years, with upcoming elections planned for mid- 2005.

Despite the continuing problems with rival militias, Kabila’s government has attempted to improve conditions. The country received the United States’ Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) status in 2003, and has begun receiving outside assistance with rebuilding. Negotiations with leaders throughout the country in 2004 an early 2005 with support from South African president Mbeki produced a revised constitution in 2005 which established guidelines for the upcoming elections scheduled for the latter part of the year.

PEOPLE: Mfumu ya ntoto (literally “The Chief of the Earth”) is the traditional chief who is held in great esteem by the people in the area. He is a principal source of wisdom, as well as arbiter in all matters of civil disputes, and is the symbolic holder and protector of all ancestral lands that belong to the clans to whom he is responsible.

Women typically form very tight social circles and share many of their labors, such as raising the children and agriculture. Women’s roles are very labor-intensive, as they are the ones that take care of the fields. Men participate in hunting during the day.

The DRC is yet another country that has been adversely affected by the onslaught of AIDS cases, an epidemic that is affecting life expectancy and population and growth rates. This is very widespread among both men and women. Additionally, there is malaria and Bubonic plague in some regions of the country.

RELIGION: Roman Catholic (50%), Protestant (20%), Kimbanguist (10%), Muslim (10%), other syncretic sects and indigenous beliefs (10%)

FAMILY: The members of the family all work together to ensure everything gets done. Men are the ones who hunt and begin the process of farming on the land. The Congolese people take part in a “slash and burn” method of farming, in which new land is cut and burned in the dry season in order to make farming possible later on. After the men partake in this activity, women pick up the work with hoeing and harvesting the fields. Women are expected to take care of the children and the home. Also, elders are treated with a great deal of respect.

DRESS: A typical dress for a woman is a cotton, wraparound dress. Western dress is also present, but is usually worn to indicate that the woman is unmarried. Men generally wear a loose-fitting T-shirt or button-down shirt with lightweight pants.

LANGUAGE: French is the official language of the DRC. Other spoken languages include Lingala (a trade language), Kingwana (a dialect of Kiswahili), Kikongo, and Tshiluba.

NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION: Handshaking is customary as a greeting form.


  • Men enjoy socializing in temporary huts that are built in the forest, as places to take refuge when hunting in rainy weather.

  • A specialized job within the DRC is to make pots and jugs out of clay. Not many people know how to do this, so there is usually one person within the village who does this job for the whole community.

  • Palm wine-making is a profession which many men have a rudimentary knowledge of, but only devoted palm tappers make the really good stuff.

  • Always ask permission before taking a picture of people, and do not photograph official buildings or installations.