We are incredibly moved by the outpouring of love and support we are feeling since the screening at the Grand Lake. City of Joy’s 15th class graduated on June 21st.
“Graduation 15th session…we did it again…perfection, new leaders, future of the DRC, deepest gratitude to Eve Ensler, my V-Day family, my dream team V-Day Congo! Family and friends who were always by my side helping me realize the dream of a better world. Love you all,” stated Christine Schuler Deschryver, Co-Founder & Director City Of Joy, Director V-Day Congo
With the addition of the 15th class, 1294 women leaders have now graduated from the City of Joy.
Graduates are forces of energy and determination – entrepreneurs of small business, initiators of collectives, journalists, restaurants owners and farmers with new land, educators and advocates on sexual violence, volunteers in a self-created recruiting network for new women at COJ, immigration workers, tailors, students, herbalists, and more. They are slowly yet swiftly building a network for women leaders that is transforming the Congo.
Serving 90 survivors of gender violence aged 18 to 30 at a time, City of Joy is conceived, owned, and run by local Congolese (and supported by V-Day, the global activist movement to end violence against women and girls). Co-founded by human rights activist Christine Schuler Deschryver (Director of City of Joy and V-Day Congo), 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege, and playwright Eve Ensler (Founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising), City of Joy has flourished since it first opened its doors in June 2011, providing a place for women survivors of violence to heal themselves from their past trauma through therapy and life skills programming while providing them with the essential ingredients needed to move forward in life – love and community. The City of Joy is a place where women turn their pain into power. A place where inner and outer evolution is evident. A place that restores women’s sense of agency over their lives as they learn real, practical life skills to feed their futures, and connects them to the global V-Day movement, one billion strong. From the return of warmth and joy into women’s lives, to a reconnection to their bodies, to the feeling of empowerment each woman feels when she masters a new skill or acquires life-changing knowledge, the City of Joy gives women a platform to transform their pasts into fuel for a revolution of the mind, body, and community.
Of the program, Christine Schuler Deschryver, V-Day Congo and City of Joy Director has said “Love is the most precious and contagious thing we see in the life of every person who lives and works at City of Joy. It is that thing and secret which triggers change at City of Joy.”
In 2016, Time magazine wrote about City of Joy in its March international cover story on rape entitled, “The Secret War Crime.” In the article survivor and staff member Jane Mukunilwa was interviewed about the program: “The therapy, says Mukunilwa, lets women understand that the rape was not their fault. The life skills and leadership training gain them confidence, and the nurturing atmosphere enables them to build support networks that last long after the program finishes. Graduates are expected to establish women’s support groups when they go home and become leaders in their community. “People think that, after being raped, you are just a victim,” says Mukunilwa. “What City of Joy taught me is that life goes on after rape. Rape is not the end. It is not a fixed identity.””
A select number of graduates of the program have gone on to work at V-World Farm, City of Joy’s sister project, approximately 20 km South of the City of Joy. The agricultural, animal breeding and environmental protection training that women receive as participants at City of Joy is deeply enhanced by having access to the farm. The farm is a life-size classroom for women graduates, giving those who live there to build on training they received at City of Joy to become exceptional leaders in the field of permaculture and community building. Similarly, the staff at the farm – who have now been through the farm’s expansion – are experts in their own right. The land provides a bounty of crops that are consumed at the City of Joy, from carrots, cassava, and corn to tomatoes, soya, and bean crops, encouraging biodiversity of the land.
The transformational work that women graduates do is carried out against an often difficult reality on the community level – gender inequity, sexual violence, infrastructure problems and disease make day-to-day life challenging.
As we write, the 16th class is underway.
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