Blog: Dispatches from Bukavu and Beyond

Report On The Graduation Day at City of Joy

On June 4, 2015, City of Joy graduated 88 women and girls of the seventh session in an extraordinary ceremony. Among the participants we had the Governor of South-Kivu province, local authorities, parents of graduates, members of partner associations/organizations, and many other guests. To honor women, the governor, who is a V-man, invited men to go on the stage to dance for women before giving his speech. He thanked Eve Ensler and Vday for the great work which is being done in the Congo to empower women who take a wind after their lives have been destroyed, their bodies tortured, and their mind traumatized by man-made inhuman acts.

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The Governor is giving his speech after honoring women with some v-men.

The graduation day was a special day for women who came as survivors of gender- based violence in December 2014 but who were happy to go back to their communities with fierce, power and capacity to lead and change such things as retrograde customs which prevent women from having and demanding their rights because they experience violence almost every day in their households, schools/colleges, work places, churches, etc.

The graduation day was a day in which every woman celebrated herself. It was a day to tell how City of Joy is an engine of transformation in which they lived for six months to turn into brave, beautiful, and strong women leaders. The change – physical, emotional, intellectual, etc. – was something the audience noticed in the face and in the life of every woman. Many parents and associations who referred women to us were unable to identify these women because of their healing and change.

We wish to take a moment to share three sample stories of women who healed in the face of the impossible and celebrated their victory over trauma on their graduation day.

  1. Mulekya Kanyere Immaculée

She came from Kitsumbiro, deep North–Kivu province. She was a postulant and had a vocation to be a nun, but was deflowered by an unknown rapist. The incident was a big stone and problem she carried and was unable to release from her lifeline. It created an existential gap in her and was a threat to anything she could envision carrying out in her life.

Immaculée was not happy the first day she entered City of Joy. She was reluctant and was wondering if her body, mind, and spirit can really change. On her journey to new life, her hallucinations surfaced. She could not drink water and she feared everything and every person even her room mates, and rarely took bath.

As Immaculée was just coming from a neuropsychiatric center when we recruited her, her healing was not an easy task for the healers, guides, and mamas of City of Joy because she was most of the time voiceless. She had insomnia and so many psychological problems to such an extent that we were wondering if we could send her back home or to a specialized psychiatric center.

When she decided to talk in private to the Director of City of Joy and to open herself thanks to the ingredients of therapy, it was the beginning of a new life. After opening herself*and telling the truth* about what she went through (*seventh and *first guiding principles to transform pain to power at City of Joy), she enjoyed much the benefits of the tenets of City of Joy to transform pain to power and bloomed like a water lily from the mad. Since then, the invisible was made visible and change was seen in the therapy group because (1) she started talking to her sisters, (2) she danced and taught songs of her culture,(3) she shared her lifeline with no shame, (4) and she shared her strengths, weaknesses ,and her vision which she promised to translate into action in her community. On her graduation, she marched elegantly in front of a crowd of people as the pictures bellow display and gave an interview.

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Before with trauma in the first picture from left (Also refer to our February report 2015). Now with power and self confidence in the other three picture

  1. Namutarutwa Nantembuka Gentille

This young woman of 20 years old was born in the highlands of Minembwe. She was forcefully married by her parents to a man of 72 years old. After some months of unbearable, harsh misery and trauma in her household, she abandoned the old man and sought refuge in our partner association which referred her to City of Joy.

Gentille was the only woman from her tribe in a multicultural community of City of Joy. She felt isolated from the community at the beginning. She was unable to share her story. It took time to talk to her so that she could feel and know what our mission is and how much we love and care for her. Her inferiority complex and self-pity   changed in the course of time. Her openness was triggered by the safe embrace (which also continues and is seen in the picture on her graduation) and confidence she used to have from the social workers and the loving staffs of City of Joy.

Self-acceptance transformed Gentille’s whole being. She took initiative in everything we organized. In the narration of her story, she even said, “If every afflicted person finds the contagious love and care she has found at city of joy, the world can be healed from violence.” The promise she gave on her graduation day was REVOLUTION. She promised not only to denounce the forms of violence she went through in her community, but also, and more so to help other women in her community to become brave in order to have their long-lost rights back, including forced marriage and incest which are highly preserved, respected, and taken as gospel truth in their culture.

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Gentille continues to be safely embraced on her graduation

  1. Marie Neema

She is from the highlands of Kalehe in South-Kivu province. She was a hostage taken to the forest where she lived under the yoke of merciless rebels who raped her for four years and had 3 children with her. These children have no identity because Marie had a great deal of sexual harassments and rape with these rebels in turn without being able to identify them due to the pain they caused to her.

One day she was sent to market where some women of her village recognized her and talked to her. On her way back to the forest women who shared some affinities with the rebels suspected that she will escape from the forest, so they took her three children to an unknown place in the forest. It is miraculously that she managed to escape one day. She wandered lonely as a cloud in the forest until she reached her village after days of panting, hunger, and despair with so many infections.

Marie arrived in her family after her mother had died. Her brother sheltered her, but considered her as a vassal. In this second hell of a life she lived in her family, she met on her way people from a mobile nursing home who drove her to hospital. Her case was tough and desperate because she was psychopathic and was leaking. She was given psychotropic drugs for months, but her situation did not change.

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During Marie’s stay in hospital , she was questioning people, including the hospital social workers and nurses and some other persons on City of Joy where she was told people like her heal with no drugs. When she was recruited to begin her healing process at City of Joy, she came with drugs that she stopped taking after one month after noticing that some of her sisters who also came traumatized have been able to talk, dance, smile, and accept themselves. She was also surprised to start smiling, eating and dancing and sleeping and becoming healthier. She was surprised to stand in front of her sisters to narrate her story and release what she went through. She ended her healing journey with much determination.

Given that Marie’s village is still hostile for her and as she has become physically strong, she expressed her will to work in the W-World farm where she will feel in security and be productive with farm work.

Note: As we said above that the 3 stories are only sample success stories of 88 women who graduated on June 4, 2015, we would like to say that every woman changed, healed, and had a vision to achieve in her community. City of Joy helped them turn the old page of victims and survivors and start writing the new page of leaders.

To conclude, we express our feelings of deep gratitude to all those who believed in us beginning from Eve Ensler. We have the privilege to be supported by a group of devoted and extraordinary Human Beings who have been always by our side since we had our far-fetched dreams.

Our gratitude is also addressed to the US V-DAY team. A big thank you to our V-DAY Congo team with who we have achieved the reported events.

Much V-Love to ALL of you who care.

May you feel our deepest gratitude!

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