Polio is a disease that is easy to vaccinate against but difficult to treat. It has affected the livelihoods of more than 4,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the past several decades. Congolese polio survivors on the front lines of their fight with the disease shared their stories with UN Foundation staff.

When polio vaccines first arrived in the DRC in 1980, many Congolese citizens were unable to receive vaccinations due to internal conflict, misinformation, or poor infrastructure. Polio inevitably spread through communities, leading to paralysis and lifelong disabilities. Forty years later, polio survivors continue to grapple with lifelong disabilities and have heartbreaking stories about the difficulty of growing up in a country with limited amenities to facilitate their basic needs.

Despite these setbacks, several polio survivors found refuge in the Congolese Association for the Liberation and Development of Handicapped Mothers, or ACOLDEMHA, whose goal is to empower and educate people living with disabilities in DRC. Read their stories.

Stephanie Toko:

Stephanie Toko is a polio survivor who has been living with the effects of the disease for more than four decades. Now 45 and living in Kinshasa, she contracted polio when she was 3 years old while playing with her cousin, who was suffering from the disease. With treatments, she retained function in one leg, but the other one is paralyzed. Like many children in the DRC, Stephanie came from a large family with limited resources, and she was unable to finish her schooling. But at 15, Stephanie was introduced to the ACOLDEMHA and, with the association’s help, completed secondary school and received her diploma. With the education and training she received through ACOLDEMHA, Stephanie gained essential trade skills that help her earn an income and survive in a world that often presents more roadblocks than opportunities for those with disabilities.

Read the full article about women fighting against Polio by Sarah Chaffee at United Nations Foundation.