Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Causes and Impact

From Women and Girls Lead, Volume 1 collection, lesson plan 3 of 6

Grade Levels: 9-12, College (Note: This lesson includes discussion of rape and other war atrocities.)

Estimated Time Needed: (Two 50-minute class periods)

Purpose of the Lesson: In this lesson, students will make personal connections with a family that has been traumatized and displaced by conflict in their homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DR Congo. Doing so will help put a human face on a far away and unimaginable conflict that is the deadliest since World War II. Students will then investigate various events in DR Congo’s history, determine the causes and impact of the war, and analyze the effects that war has had on women in particular.


Students will:

  • Explain how they might feel if they were separated from their family during a time of war and then reunited with them 13 years later
  • Identify similarities and differences between themselves and a family shown in a film module
  • Discuss the use of rape as a weapon of war
  • Analyze a timeline and prioritize the three most important events related to an assigned topic (changes in leadership, war crimes, economy, regional events, social issues)
  • Justify their choices of events and determine how events on their list are connected with those on the lists of students who had a different assigned topic
  • Recognize how the suffering of women during war can impact the strength of families, communities, and the country as a whole


  • Equipment to show the class film modules
  • Film Modules: “Reunion” and “Nangabire’s First Day of School” (length 6:46 and 5:35)
  • Student Handout: Reflect and Respond
  • A map of Africa, showing the location of the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Internet Resource: History of the Democratic Republic of Congo Timeline
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Markers

Writer: Cari Ladd

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS interactive's director of education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.


  1. Have students complete the Student Handout located at the end of the PDF for this lesson plan. Download lesson plan materials to access.

  2. Ask students to read and compare their responses on the handout with a partner. Then, review the handout with the class one section at a time by inviting several student pairs to share what they have discussed.

  3. Explain that the scenario on the handout really happened to the Mapendo family from the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DR Congo, a country in central Africa. Show students where DR Congo is on a map. Point out that the country’s size is slightly less than one quarter of the United States. (If time permits, consider using a KWL chart to capture student thinking about DR Congo during this lesson.)

  4. Tell students that the mother of the family is named Rose. She has 10 children, including a daughter named Nangabire, from whom the family was separated for 13 years. Explain that you are going to show the class a brief film module (length: 6:46) that introduces the family and shows Nangabire’s reunion with her mother. Ask students to use a Venn Diagram when they watch the video to take notes on the similarities and differences between themselves and the Mapendo family. Then, play the film module, “Reunion.”

  5. Discuss:

    • In what ways are students similar to Rose and her family? In what ways are they different? Are these similarities and differences surprising? Why or why not?

    • How did Nangabire’s actual thoughts and feelings compare with the inferences made by students on the handout?

    • In the second part of the film module, why did the film’s director use close-up and extreme close-up shots while Rose and Nangabire were getting ready to see each other again? How did such shots influence how students reacted to this part of the module? For example, how might the reunion hug have been a different experience for viewers if the camera shot showed Rose and Nangabire further away? (Consider a deeper examination of other techniques used in the module, using the Film & Video Terminology reference in Student Handout B as a guide.)

    Remind students that war had forced the Mapendo family to leave their home in DR Congo and that they were eventually resettled in Phoenix, Arizona. After Nangabire reunited with her family there, she started going to high school. Play the film module, “Nangabire’s First Day of School” (length: 5:35) and ask students to watch for the types of camera shots (close ups, point of view, etc. – see the Film & Video Terminology guide for more information) the director used to help viewers understand how Nangabire was feeling that day.

  6. Discuss:

    • What emotions do you think Nangabire experienced on her first day of school? How do you know? What camera shots did the director use to help viewers understand her feelings?

    • Compare Nangabire’s experiences on the first day of school with those of students in the class at the beginning of the school year. How were they similar? How were they different?

    • How has war in DR Congo had an impact on Phoenix, Arizona?

    • Are there students like Nangabire at your school? What can adults and students at school do to make transitions like Nangabire’s easier?

    • Have students in the class ever felt like an outsider? When? How did they cope?

  7. Explain to the class that the Mapendo family members are among millions of Congolese who have suffered the trauma of war and displacement as a result of conflict in their country. More than five million people have been killed, and at least 200,000 women and girls have been systematically and brutally raped. Soldiers typically work together to commit sexual assaults — many times publicly — as a way of terrorizing or punishing communities, often because the soldiers believe the villages have somehow helped their enemies. As an additional resource to illustrate these atrocities, consider showing students a five-minute video report from The New York Times: Congo’s Forgotton War.

  8. Discuss:

    • How can rape be considered a “weapon of war?” In what ways does it accomplish military purposes?
    • Women who are raped are usually rejected and isolated by their families and communities. What are the long-term implications of this situation?
  9. Help the class to explore the causes and impact of war in DR Congo by having groups of 3-4 students work together to study the History of the Democratic Republic of Congo Timeline. Assign each group one of the following topics:

    • Changes in Leadership
    • War Crimes (especially rape)
    • Economy
    • Regional Events
    • Social Issues
  10. Groups will then review the timeline and select what they believe are the three most important events related to their assigned topic. Each group will record their "Top 3 Events" list on a large sheet of paper that can be seen by the rest of the class. (Note: If there are not enough computers available during class for such a group project, one alternative would be to have students determine their “Top 3 Events” lists individually outside of class. Then, in class, students can compare their lists in small groups, defend their choices, and negotiate a group list.)

  11. Have each group share their “Top 3 Events” list with the class and explain how they selected and prioritized the events. How did some events trigger further conflict? What impact did these events have both on DR Congo and globally? Ask follow-up questions of each group that challenge students to identify how the events on their list are connected to those on the lists of other groups.

  12. To evaluate learning from this lesson, instruct students to consider what they have studied about DR Congo and then analyze in writing how war in that country has affected women in particular. How did the suffering of women impact the strength of families, communities, and the country as a whole? What are some of the ways that war in DR Congo has affected the global community? Students should draw evidence from the resources featured in this lesson to support their analysis. For an additional resource to stimulate student analysis of this topic, consider showing the class a slideshow commentary, “The Other Side of War,” (length: 7:35) by Zainab Salbi, who founded Women for Women International, an organization that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives.

  1. Examine the culture of shame and silence when women are sexually assaulted. In DR Congo, more than 200,000 women and girls have been systematically and brutally raped by soldiers who use sexual assault as a weapon of war. Once raped, women are often rejected and scorned by loved ones and the community as a whole. Provide students with more background on this issue by watching the Need to Know story, “Rape as a Weapon of War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” and/or The New York Times reports, Brutality in the Congo and Congo’s Forgotten War. Have students describe the social response to victims of rape in DR Congo and explain how that might foster a culture of shame and silence among these women. Then, find out if rape victims in your local community share these feelings. Invite a guest speaker who is familiar with the psychology of rape victims to come talk to the class. This person could be a therapist or someone from a community organization that provides support to rape victims. Ask the speaker to provide a local perspective on this issue, and recommend ways that members of the community can best support these women.

  2. Take action to support refugees and victims of sexual violence from DR Congo and around the world as they overcome the trauma of their experiences and live healthy lives. Students can connect with organizations such as Women for Women International, Mapendo New Horizons, the International Rescue Committee, Run for Congo Women, Heal Africa, groups in your community that deal with women’s issues, or your local PBS station to raise funds, increase awareness about these issues through social media outreach or public service announcements, or even participate in a run/walk to benefit Congolese women, become a mentor for a young girl, etc.

  3. Imagine how the mother/daughter relationship between Rose and Nangabire might evolve now that they are reunited after a 13-year separation. Have students write a dialogue and create a 10-15-frame storyboard of a scene that shows how Rose and Nangabire might interact with each other when Nangabire faces a difficult situation related to being back with her family or adjusting to life in the U.S.

  4. Discover the link between consumer purchases of electronic devices and the atrocities committed in the DR Congo. Watch the Need to Know report, “How to Avoid Conflict Minerals?” Have students create a list of the various minerals named in the report and how they are used. Then, ask them to produce videos that outline the problem with conflict minerals and encourage the public to pressure electronics companies to provide clear information about the source of the minerals in their products so that consumers can make informed purchases. Students can then share these videos as part of a social media campaign. For ideas on developing a successful social media strategy, review some campaign examples at 10 Social Media Campaigns That Rock!

  5. Encourage students to think about whether or not the international community has a moral responsibility to help bring peace and security to DR Congo. Ask students to read and reflect on the following statement, and then write a commentary expressing their agreement or disagreement with it: “If we tolerate mass atrocities somewhere far away, at some level we are saying that we accept the inhuman treatment of people everywhere, including in our own neighborhoods.”

  6. Explore why wars and civil unrest in some countries get more media attention in the U.S. than conflicts in other countries. Using the interactive Year in the News tool from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, create data charts by selecting which media sectors you want to analyze, and then compare the topics and geography of the most frequently-covered international news events. Which stories received the most coverage? Why do students think this is the case? If conflicts in DR Congo have been the deadliest since World War II, why does war there receive less coverage than what happens in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, for example, or the war in Afghanistan? Have students write persuasive essays to report their findings. Then, consider having the class repeat this process to analyze coverage across media platforms (e.g., print vs. TV) or to look more closely at the wartime coverage of women.

  7. Investigate ethical decision making during war by considering an incredibly difficult choice involving members of the Mapendo family when they were prisoners in the death camp. About 58 minutes into the film, Rose talks about how her son John was about to be killed. Rose talked to her daughter Aimee to see if she would be willing to sleep with a soldier in order to save John’s life. Aimee agreed to do it and became pregnant with the soldier’s child. After learning of Aimee’s pregnancy, the soldier arranged for the family’s release from the camp, and they were eventually resettled in the United States. Show this portion of the film to students and have them identify the family’s ethical dilemma, their options in those circumstances, and what the positive and negative consequences were of Aimee’s decision. Then, ask students to speculate in writing what decision they might have made in that situation and why.

  8. Work with students to develop assessment criteria for the written analysis that they complete in step 10 of the main lesson activity, or for one of the extension activities. Use these criteria to evaluate student learning about conflict in DR Congo.

Background Resources:

BBC: Q & A: DR Congo Conflict This resource includes information on the status of the conflict in Congo and the purpose of the United Nations mission there.

The CIA World Factbook: Democratic Republic of the Congo Find a map, geographic and political information, and key issues related to Congo.

Report of the Panel on Remedies and Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the High Commissioner of Human Rights This United Nations report explains how justice and reparations are lacking for victims of sexual violence in the DR Congo, and makes recommendations for how the situation can be improved.

  • Film module:
  • Film module:
    Nangabire's First Day of School
Download lesson materials