Blog: Dispatches from Bukavu and Beyond

City of Joy: Here’s What’s Changed – A Photo Essay by Eve Ensler and Paula Allen

Photos: Paula Allen for V-Day

It’s been over two years since I’ve been able to visit City of Joy. No luck with visas combined with high insecurity. The war quietly and invisibly rages on but City of Joy, like so much else in the Congo, cannot be deterred. It is fertile, alive, intense, insistent and thriving in spite of everything the world has to throw at it. Here’s what’s changed:

Saplings have become tall trees.
A tiny orange bush is now brimming with oranges.
A garden has become a small forest.

Roses are now the size of tea saucers.

Untested staff have risen to the occasion, and are highly trained and totally effective professionals.

Women, once skinny and traumatized, are full bodied and strong.

Women who passed through the first class, once defenseless and brutalized, are trained guards defending other women.

Girls have turned the stones in their hearts and pasts into flowers.

Once boring wooden office desks are chicly covered in swirling pagnes.

A meditation hut has been erected where the perfect breeze wafts through layers of stunning tapestry.

There are silent zones to pause and reflect and feel peace.

Victims have become survivors who have become leaders.

Military wives who live in the surrounding dilapidated camp have become
active members of the City of Joy community. Two have been hired as staff.

Jane is in school. When she speaks she sounds like the future of Congo.

Mama Bachu is a dangerous woman and a love warrior.

Mama C looks years younger. She has found her stride and is
the fiercest, most loving, most visionary leader.

1117 women have graduated.
They have gone on to:
lead in their communities
run farm collectives
go to school
recruit other women for City of Joy
live at V-World Farm now and work as farmers
demand their rights
become nurses, teachers, herbalists, social workers,
healers, organizers
refuse men who are not their equals.

At V-World Farm,

There are 200 farmers and workers employed
300 families are living off a gifted piece of land
The surrounding community is part of the project.

The houses for 90 women are built and stunning.

There is a state of the art theater.

The pigs and lambs and goats and bunnies have multiplied.

Tilapia are harvested by the tons.

The food feeds the girls at City of Joy.

Moringa grows and avocados and pineapple and papaya
And sweet potatoes and tons of rice and fennel
And a wild accidental red flower.

This is the new world. This is the feminine world.

This is the new paradigm manifested on earth. A world where staff are filled with so much joy they literally stop their morning, take off their shoes to dance. Where crying is invited, where ideas are expansive, where love is the central verb. City of Joy is the diamond in the rough. The rising citadel in the center of war and brokenness. Where the radiance of those who have turned their suffering into power spreads in all direction, Where miracles are catalyzed by the transfiguration of pain into joy. Here’s an example.

There were a pair of twins, Cikuru (first born) and Cito (second born). When they were three years old the militias entered their village and they were forced to run. Their father was murdered and they became separated from their mother. Then they were taken away from each other. They were each taken in by separate families who treated them like servants. They were each raped several times. They were each abandoned and reabandoned. They had not seen each other for 15 years. One did not remember she had a sister. One had a vague memory. They were each referred to City of Joy. On the boat to travel there, other girls on the boat noticed that there were two girls on the boat who looked shockingly alike. They found each other and discovered they were twin sisters. They found the part that was missing. They found their family. They both went through 6 months at City of Joy together. They both purged their pain and released their stones. They moved to V-World Farm. They work there now and go to school. The cry when they speak of their mother. They have pledged never to leave each other again in this life. They are saving their money to buy land and a house. They are sisters. Rising.