Blog: Dispatches from Bukavu and Beyond

Update From City Of Joy: Women Speak From Their Communities

It is August, in the dry season in DRC, at City of Joy and in the V-World farm. It is a season of plowing the land and cleaning out the farm to prepare the next plantation of corn, beans, etc. Yet, we have already graduated 759 women and now we have plenty of news from them. All are thriving. All are leading their communities to peace. All maintain strong ties with City of Joy. Many are economically independent. Some joined the school after their graduation and have turned into nurses, primary and secondary school teachers. Some gather other women and show them the right path to follow. Many have joined cooperatives and VSLAs (Village Savings and Loans Associations). A good number of women are running small business in their communities. They have small boutiques in which they sell sugar, peanuts, palm oil, corn flour, beans, etc. One is a journalist and another is working as a migration agent.

Our phones are most of the time at buzz and full of good news from City of Joy graduates. Whenever we graduate women, they join the others to form groups of City of Joy graduates in their villages. We have strong groups of graduates who are working together: they are initiating self- help projects, they are helping other women, and they are standing in solidarity with those women who are still going through harsh, grave experiences. Many of our graduates have become our partners. They select women from remote area who meet the admission criteria and prepare them for the admission process in collaboration with our staff during the recruitment field work.

With certainty that City of Joy continues to be a center where pain is transformed to power and a shelter of women who heal after six months, we have three sample stories of women who are in their communities and who are sharing what they have become to the people of their community.

The first is a story of a group of graduates from Kitshumbiro, deep North-Kivu Province. It is a group of 8 graduates from 3 classes. They have come to know one other after each group had graduated from City of Joy and been determined to join the others to take action together and plan how their action can impact the lives of the people in their communities. They decided to take action because they wanted to prove that change is possible even after despair. They wanted people who undervalued them before to see their new energy and power. They wanted to read the new page of their life in and with their community. They wanted to share their abilities with their sisters, fathers, mothers, neighbors, leaders, etc.

One week after the graduation of the 9th class, City of Joy graduates from Kitshumbiro sent us a report on the action they took. The report was sent with new recruits of the 10th class. In the report, graduates explained how they are gathering and acting as a group known as Graduates from V-Day in Lubero. They launched a campaign to “Raise public awareness of the techniques of composting”. The campaign covered 5 km square and 5 sample villages were sensitized in one month. After the sensitization 15 composts were made by our graduates. The populations were happy to learn this technique that will help them improve their productivity with local manure. The second phase of the campaign will continue after the assessment of the first to make sure the communities or families own the action and enjoy and appreciate its benefits.

cojupdate-aug2016-1The second news is about a new leader who graduated from City of Joy in the second class in 2012. She is Miss A. She was recruited at City of Joy in 2012 after being destroyed and having a child out of that inhuman act. She was taken in the forest by people who do not know that women’s rights are human rights – by people who trample on these rights with impunity.

Miss A. spent 6 months at City of Joy sharing her story and ordeals. It was an opportunity for her to react to being raped after being silenced by that act and being rejected by the family and friends and anybody she knew before. She had no opportunity to speak. The therapy she got helped her to fully appreciate her body and understand her sexuality. That was probably the first step on her healing journey. And her relationship with the community of City of Joy was another ingredient of pure trust and a certain feeling of power.

What inspirational messages can we hear from Miss A. now?

cojupdate-aug2016-2The biggest lesson to learn in the changing life of Miss A. is her determination, her vision and her pride in healing from her past trauma. She believes that “the most inspirational part of her story is not anchored in her past but in what she did with her past”. The amount of love and support from City of Joy has been amazing and has helped her come back to her body she denied and hated when it was destroyed. She found the people she needed to help her heal. After the graduation, Miss A. decided to go back to school because she wanted to heal other people who suffer. She left her village and set to Goma where she joined the department of Midwifery Nursing. Every year she passed at the first session and on July 12th, 2016 City of Joy was honored to attend the defense of her final paper, which was dedicated to the City of Joy.

The third story is that of marriage. One 7th class graduate from Kamanyola got married on Thursday, August 11th, 2016. She is a lady who was living with the scars – inside and outside her body – due to the ill-treatment of her father, who married a second wife (who is younger than our graduate) after our graduate’s mother died. She could not report her problem to any person for fear to be beaten by her father and expelled from the family.   Whenever she was secretly telling her story to her uncles the latter thought she was lying and just expected her to carry on with her life. She had horrendous physical wounds; her eyes were all the time red because of weeping. When City of Joy recruited her, it was as though she was running from slavery. She was recruited with high trauma. The impact of her father’s conduct was immense.

When her father simply realized that her daughter was absent in the family he thought she decided to go to one of the family members. City of Joy helped her to start dealing with the physical side of the trauma that had happened to her. Little by little she started to comprehend the vastness of the pain she endured. She started a journey of victory over trauma.

In six months, Miss B. learned to forgive her father. She promised to make a revolution in her community and in her family when she returned to her home. When she joined her family, her beauty, her power, her knowledge of children and women’s rights changed her father’s behavior. Her father who was ill-treating her started talking to her with dignity. Last time during the tour of our evaluator, we were proud to hear that the graduate and her father reconciled. We are proud that the father can now talk to his daughter and hear the latter’s point of view. When the graduate came to announce her marriage at City of Joy, she travelled to Bukavu with her father.

Regarding the graduate’s marriage, we are happy to witness the agreement the couple made. As the graduate learned the ins and outs of each matrimonial regime at City of Joy in the course of gender rights, she freely choose her partner and both made an agreement to choose a matrimonial regime that suit them.