Dear activists, V-friends, and donors,
It has been 8 years since City of Joy opened its doors to the first group of survivors of gender-based violence. It has been 8 years since miracles started being made at the center of madness. It has been 8 years since women who survived tragic events started transforming their pain to power. It has been 8 years of the hard work of mending lives and helping women survivors of GBV create their destinies on their own terms. It has been 8 years of planting seeds of revolution with people who have been separated from their bodies, isolated from their communities, and stigmatized by their relatives. It has been 8 years of REVOLUTION.
As we are sharing this update, we are proud to announce that 1294 women have graduated since the beginning of the program. 1294 women have healed and 1294 have become full-fledged members of their communities. They are thriving. They are leading. They are inspiring. They are contaminating others with love.
90 women of the 15th class graduated in June and have joined their communities to lead. 90 graduates have joined their communities with open minds and eyes to think and see what is the best thing they have to do for their independence. Each of them joined their families and communities with a package of training to make change happen. 90 women have been able to share their lifelines. They have discovered the best flowers they have and that they will be watering every day in their lives. They have shared about all their hardships including the incidents they survived. They have been equipped with abilities to release their trauma. They have been empowered to achieve their goals. They have become icons of revolution. They have been committed to being the light in darkness and the water lilies in the mad. They have decided to be at the center of attention because of the difference they will make in their communities.
We have some recent news from graduates who are brilliant in their activities, and those who were determined to go back to school because they acknowledged that illiteracy is one of the root causes of the violence that women endure in their communities. The stories of Julienne Zihalirwa, Kikoko Victoire, Nzimire Hamuli, Joyce Hamuli, and Namwera have attracted our attention in this update.
She is an 8th class graduate. She was a first year student when she was raped and impregnated. She gave up studies and was rejected by her father because of the incident.
When Julienne was at City of Joy, she performed well in almost all the courses including animal husbandry, sewing, knitting, etc. When she joined her community, she was hired as a local trainer of knitting by a grassroots association. She even worked as a migration agent and was a secondary school teacher until May of 2019. This year, Panzi Foundation has had a training scholarship in jewelry by SIFODI. SIFODI is a Swiss organization which trains women in Africa to bring added value to the mining and agricultural resources available to them, to transform these resources, sell them and thus overcome poverty. It aims at empowering women and facilitating their overall development, i.e. their economic, and personal development.
Julienne and another Congolese survivor of gender violence were the best candidates selected for the training in Dar-es- Salaam considering their profiles and skills. The training of Julienne as a trainer of trainers in DRC and in the East Africa region started in June 2019 and the records of Julienne are promising.
She was recruited in the territory of Lubero – far away from the city of Goma in North Kivu. She was among the women who got rejected by their parents after surviving from the captivity of rebels in their territory. And she is among the women who were hopeless and attempted to commit suicide before they came to City of Joy. During Victoire’s first three months at City of Joy she never believed she could be respected in any community, but she felt valued with the love and warmth she had at City of Joy. On her graduation, Victoire danced over trauma and expressed her joy. She told the audience that she had had seeds of revolution at City of Joy which will yield a good harvest in her life.
She joined her community with fierce and power that enabled her to take action. Her physical healing, her determination, and her self-confidence astonished her relatives, including those who rejected her when she got destroyed. She is the initiator of the collective of graduates of Kitshumbiro, whose stories are told in some of our reports because of their success and impact in the region. She is in the group of graduates who trained communities to make compost and improve their agricultural techniques.
As a reminder, Victoire did grade 12 and holds a certificate. She was brilliant in the computer course that she learned for the first time at City of Joy. She was even hired as a computer course trainer in a center just some months after she had arrived in her village. When the National DRC Independent Electoral Commission was hiring typists to enroll the population, Victoire was one of the rare candidates, and the only woman to be hired.
The money she earned allowed her to build a house and make a decision to go to the university. She came to Bukavu and is doing year 3 in the department of nutrition now. She distinguished with 75% in year 1 and with 74% in year 2. The most encouraging thing is that victoire is using her knowledge as a nutritionist to make peanut butter and sell it to organizations and private people in Bukavu. All staff members of city of joy have become her clients.
She is a sixth-class graduate. She was recruited because she had been discriminated by her parents. She was forced to marry a man she does not love. She was expelled from her family when she was 16. She lived under depression because she had nobody to school her after grade 10. She miraculously got a supporter who paid for her school fees until she got her secondary school certificate. She was referred to City of Joy by Heal Africa Hospital. The transformation she got with the therapeutic ingredients of City of Joy enabled her to accept herself and make a decision to go back to school. Last year, she graduated in the department of hostelry and tourism in the city of Goma. She is now working in one of the best hotels in Goma.
Joyce is a 6th – class graduate. She is one of the women whose levels of trauma were high because of being raped and witnessing the killing of her parents. She was raised by her relatives. In her life project at City of Joy, she vowed and planned to go back to school because she believes that education is the key of economic independence. She went to Goma and graduated last week in tourism. She is happy to have made a giant step in the achievement of her once farfetched dream. She is happy that other women and her peers can respect her.
Namwera (pictured left) is a graduate from city of joy who lives in Bunyakiri. She survived inhuman acts- she was taken to the forest for days, and was kicked and assisted to the massacre of other people. She had recurrent nightmares when she was at city of joy. She never thought she would speak in front of people. She never believed in her capacities. She never trusted anything that could help her heal. It took time to see her change and transformed before her graduation.
When Namwera discovered that accepting oneself is very important in any healing process, she became open, she told the truth about what she went through, and she decided to use what she survived in order to fuel a revolution. Her commitment was to go back to her community, share her abilities, and help other women know and demand their rights. In addition to running business in her village, Namwera is also active in local development initiatives.
In April 2019, Namwera came with another graduate to announce not only the recrudescence of insecurity in her region, but also the presence of traumatized women who have survived from rape, torture, and kidnapping and who need city of joy’s empowerment and care. Namwera received instructions from the City of Joy and went to the villages where women have been assaulted. She sensitized her community, talked about city of joy, and filled the forms of some women. City of joy made the final selection of women who meet the admission criteria.
The few stories we have shared in this update indicate that City of Joy is helping women make their dreams come true. City of joy is helping women who were desperate, lonely, traumatized, etc. be on the path of revolution, have a vision, achieve their goals, and be valued in their communities. We believe in the power of women to make change happen. We believe that City of Joy is an engine of transformation. We also believe that love has the power to make miracles happen at the center of madness.
We really thank everyone whose love, friendship, and support have been an added value in the accomplishment of VDAY’S MISION and VISION.
VDAY DR Congo
Christine Schuler Deschryver