The City of Joy is a transformational leadership community for women survivors of violence, located in Bukavu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Conceived, owned, and run by local Congolese, the City of Joy has flourished since it first opened its doors in June 2011, healing women from their past trauma through therapy and life skills programming while providing them with the essential ingredients needed to move forward in life – love and community. In its fourth year, the City of Joy continues to grow and blossom.
Currently, the situation in Congo is still volatile. Infrastructure remains frayed and dysfunctional. Water, electricity, jobs, food, healthcare and roads are all still a huge problem and violence is epidemic. Despite all the talk and posturing of the international community, millions of Congolese are living in terrible poverty and violence while multinationals continue to pillage their resources. The weather, due to climate change, is becoming less and less predictable. A huge storm, with heavier than usual down pours flooded City of Joy in February and there was much damage. Members of the surrounding community jumped in voluntarily to clean and help out after the storm.
Currently, the seventh class is well underway and is made up of an astounding group of young women. Their energy is so high and their desire to learn and change is palpable.
As always women come here after suffering abuses, violence, and deprivations beyond imagination and in such a very short period, their energy, life force, sexuality, hunger to learn, and desire to give what they’ve gotten returns.
Jane, pictured above with a current student, is the manifestation of the energy of City Of Joy having suffered the deepest trauma and violence, but emerged a central leader of this community. She is the radical embodiment of love and possibility and her life force lifts everyone in her presence.
Classes include learning the song of the 10 principles, a sewing class, a lecture and slideshow on animal husbandry and a session of drumming and tribal dancing.
The staff has become professionalized and utterly dedicated to giving their skills and energy and hearts to the transformation of the 88 young women. Under the extraordinary leadership of Christine Schuler Deschryver they are being held and holding themselves to a higher level of discipline and rigor.
One example is Mama Kiangiara, who once carried the stones and sand that built this place. Afterwards, she became a cleaner here. Then she was offered computer training, and is now the assistant to the storekeeper, a woman who manages all the goods and resources of City of Joy.
This current class will graduate mid June, making 580 graduates since the beginning. And previous graduates are thriving. Below are a few stories so you can taste the achievements and advances:
Chantal, works at V-World farm. She will be leaving with Rousseau, another graduate next week to receive training at Barefoot College in India to become a solar specialist.
Mire, works in a fine hotel and accepts her son, who was the product of rape. She takes care of her family who once stigmatized her.
A group of our women graduates have become radio journalists at a station in Uvara. The director of National Congolese radio and television teaches communications here at City of Joy and he chooses those who excel in journalism to work for the show. The women do a show on women’s rights.
Evelyn, has become a leader, fighting for her community in Sake. She refers women to City of Joy.
Mama Maombi is a survivor of rape who had a baby and afterwards had terrible psychiatric problems. She came to City of Joy and went through the program. She was thought to be healed, but then had a set back after leaving the community and began to show signs of mental deterioration. Christine hired her at City of Joy. She is now a cook here and thriving.
Gisele from the island of Idjwi graduated and opened her own business to cater for weddings. She became so successful she was able to open a hair salon. Recently she returned to City of Joy with 20 pineapples and kasava to feed all ninety girls as an expression of her gratitude.
Furaha was at Panzi hospital with severe psychiatric problems. The hospital was unable to help her and sent her to City of Joy. She recovered and transformed and left with the promise of revolution. She has her own business now and is a leader in her community where she was formerly rejected. She recently defended a woman who was under attack for being a “witch.” Both women were arrested and put in prison. When she got out, Furaha was a hero in her village. She is very beautiful and her aunt tried to marry her off. She came to City of Joy for help. They got her a lawyer who went back to her village with her and met with the community and now she is free.
Of course there are many difficulties that Christine and our team have to face. Because women have been so severely traumatized, the process of being here often uncovers deeper, more profound psychiatric problems, sometimes anti-social behavior. Women also sometimes arrive with illnesses such as AIDS and malaria, diseases that City of Joy does not have adequate health facilities to treat, and so by necessity there have been a few cases where women have had to returned to their villages.
In less than two years, the team here, led by Christine have envisioned and built an infrastructure that is not only highly functional, but ecologically sound.
The warehouse is now complete. The building is massive, gorgeous and able to accommodate storage, rice machines, dining room and kitchens, bathrooms for workers and staff, and several offices.
The entire farm is in the process of being solarized.
A mighty new road has been built under the excellent supervision of Carlos. This road has enabled so much growth and efficiency as it allows access to all the working areas of the farm – the ponds, the pigs, the rice fields. One is able too drive in five minutes what used to take hours.
There are now eleven honey bee hives. There are avocados, oranges, pineapples, guavas. There is maize, string beans, cabbage, celery, carrots, amaranth, beans, sweet potatoes, ground nuts, eggplants and tomatoes.
The farm is supplying much food to City of Joy. One of the tilapia ponds is near full and there will be a harvest at the end of April which will yield a ton of fish. These fish will also feed the women at City of Joy and eventually we hope to sell them. Twenty tons of rice was harvested and the new rice machine was paid for by selling the harvest of rice from the year before. Twenty thousand new trees have been planted along the border of the property and more will be planted in the upcoming months. There are 82 rabbits, 27 goats.
Construction of the houses for the women who will live and work at V -World is well underway and will ultimately be able to house 40 women. The houses are beautifully and simply designed and stare out on a gorgeous view of the valley. These women will begin to form the basis for the collective that we hope will one day run and own V-World Farm.
Excellent and deeply engaged outreach has been done with the surrounding community and there is now a counsel of community leaders who work with the farm to build ongoing relationships and work on any potential conflicts, questions, and needs. The surrounding community has received a significant plot of land on the farm that they work for their own benefit in exchange for their help come harvest time. The farm employs 187 workers right now, including 18 graduates of City of Joy and 48 women from the surrounding community.
You can tell from the pictures, City of Joy is verdant and vibrant offering hope in all directions.
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