by Christine Schuler Deschryver
10 years since V-Day first embarked on its work in Eastern DRC, the City of Joy is a thriving center for women survivors of violence that has graduated over 1000 women. Envisioned by women on the ground, and staffed and run by them, the center is a place where women can heal themselves in community. The setting is beautiful – trees, flowers, birds are in abundance, and there is interaction with Mother Nature, via planting trees, feeding animals, studying agriculture, fish breeding, and animal husbandry. A place that a place that demonstrates the important relationship between humans and nature, the City of Joy is a setting for healing and also a tool for it.
Self-defense is one of the key courses women participate in at City of Joy. Not only does the course help women to feel more empowered in their own bodies and in tune with their own strength, but it has inspired some women to become security guards to protect family members, community members and their land.
As staff watched women go through the program and come through feeling stronger than ever, creating the V Protection Squad at the City of Joy began to feel like an important next step. An all women team of 4 security guards was carefully chosen and is now in place. The team is emblematic of City of Joy’s core beliefs – that women are not victims, but survivors, and that women have the power to lead, act and protect.
The members are:
Neema is a woman from the town of Goma. She had a vision to become a guard after her training and healing at City of Joy because she believed that she was destroyed because she knew nothing about security measures and prevention. When she arrived in Goma after her stay and healing at City of Joy, she enrolled in a security guard program. She completed the training and was waiting to be hired in a company as a guard. We selected her not only because she is a graduate from City of Joy but also because she has been sending us news about insecurity in her region. Neema has shared her experience as a trained security guard who is able to de-escalate tense situations, and use a range of mechanisms to do her work, from standing post to supervising and providing security in different environments.
Jacky has always been smart, firm and vision oriented in her decisions. An energetic woman, she is a woman who developed her community with the organization of over 100 women who planted trees, grew cassava, cabbage and soya to feed families in the villages of Ritchuru and sold products in the town of Goma. In addition to being detail oriented, Jacky also knows how to communicate effectively.
Rousseau is a former religious novice who survived from a massacre and who was an eyewitness to the murder of her community members in a convent. She is an strong leader and a physically strong woman. Most importantly, Rousseau brings a keen focus to her work as to miss anything that could prove important.
Fancine is from Kamanyola where a collective of graduates of City of Joy own a farm. She has been organizing the group of graduates there for over 3 years. She was illiterate when she started in the first class but is now able to read and write thanks to the benefits of literacy class at City of Joy. She came to City of Joy as a survivor of gender violence but turned her pain around and today is a strong woman whose bravery inspires many. She is also a curious woman who always wants to learn from others and improve her abilities. She is always ready to roll up her sleeves and take initiative.
When we questioned the new guards about how they feel about their new positions, they simply said they are so proud to serve the City of Joy and share their abilities with their sisters and community in which they healed themselves and transformed into leaders. Beyond that, the V-Protection Squad is proud to let the world know that a woman is not “a subspecies but she is endowed with the same capacities like a man”. One member joked, “Why can we look for evidence very far whereas everything can be found at City of Joy. We know each corner of City of Joy, even mice can’t escape from our control!”?
The V-Protection Squad is not only an empowering experience for its participants; it brings great comfort to residents who feel at ease being guarded by women leaders who really care, are disciplined about their work and put rules and regulations into practice. It is a good lesson in action, challenging gender norms in our culture where many women are expected to raise children and take care of the home. They can take on roles that are traditionally thought of as male roles, and they can succeed at them.