Greetings from Bukavu My Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I write in the middle of a glorious downpour.
It will be five years in June since we opened City of Joy. Between the insecurity, lack of roads, little electricity, mad rain, costs of building, the vision of our Congolese sisters could easily not have been realized. So first, this is a huge thank you to all of you who believed in the vision and who have stayed with us on this miraculous journey.
On June 23, at our next graduation, 759 women will have graduated City of Joy. 759 women will have been healed, nurtured, educated, fed, empowered joined into a community and network of love and revolution. 759 women will have released massive trauma and horrific memories. 759 women will have danced, sung, learned their rights, performed plays, developed agricultural skills, come to love their bodies. 759 women will be leaders in their communities, no longer stigmatized for being raped but instead forces of energy and determination, entrepreneurs of small business, initiators of collectives, restaurants owners, farmers with new land, educators and advocates on sexual violence, volunteers in a self-created recruiting network for new women at COJ, journalists, immigration workers, tailors, students, herbalists. 42 graduates are employed at V-world Farm.
Saturday we took a visit, all of us to V-World farm. It is astounding, to see what has happened here in less than 3 years. We employ 180-280 (depending on the season). We’ve made great friends with our neighbors through intensive outreach efforts, even given some a plot of land so they are with us in our efforts. We’ve planted 20,000 trees. There is a new stunningly made road that runs through much of the farm. The enormous warehouse building is up and running and the new machines that are stored there for rice, corn and flour were purchased through the sale of our eggs. We have 40 goats, and lots of baby goats, 330 bunnies, 279 pigs, 30 sheep. We harvested more than 30 tons of rice. We have produced 38 kilos of honey with traditional banana leave bee hives.
The day at the farm was remarkable for so many reasons, to be in our fields for a walk and picnic with our 90 girls and team would have been heaven alone, but this day took everything to a new level. We drained one of the Tilapia ponds together. The fish were bountiful, huge and healthy. The act of draining and carrying and cleaning the fish together in this community of so much joy and care was one of the most beautiful experiences I can remember.
When we began City of Joy, we said we would wait five years before we could assess whether our experiment could or would work. Well we are here and the answer is a wild, definitive yes. I believe we have created a model for turning pain to power and planting, for transforming trauma into joy and leadership, for healing through land and love. Christine and I believe it is time to begin to write up a small manual/book on what we have done, what we have learned and how City of Joys could be spread everywhere.
This program is solely owned, run, and determined by the Congolese. It is their vision and their huge success. One of things we have learned, although she would not say this herself, is that creating and running a City of Joy is impossible without impeccable, brilliant, tireless devoted leadership. We are here because of Christine Schuler Deschryver. Her efforts have been heroic. She has trained and nurtured staff and young women and the community in one of the most impoverished, broken, violent places in the world and she has done it with vision, firmness, honestly and clarity.
She is the Mama, the ultimate Mama of City of Joy. Her love has made miracles and shall I say, help make what I believe is the most joyful place I have been in the world.
We all know none of this would have happened without your amazing generosity. I do hope you will stay with us on this incredible journey as we evolve and create a program and community that may be a template for transforming trauma and pain everywhere.
All my love and gratitude,
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