Blog: Dispatches from Bukavu and Beyond

TURNING PAIN TO POWER – 21st Class at City of Joy Graduates: An Update from City of Joy Director, Christine Schuler Deschryver

From January to June 2022, the City of Joy sheltered 83 women from the 21st training class in women’s leadership and emotional healing. These women came to the center grappling with what they had survived. Many were afflicted with impostor syndrome, doubting themselves and overlooking their personal accomplishment during the process of their recovery.

In front of a crowd at the closing ceremony, these 83 beautiful women came together to celebrate their victory, their leadership and their emotional healing.

The date of June 24, 2022 will remain a crucial and memorable date that marks a change in each of their lives. Many of these women felt separated from their bodies, marginalized by their communities, and traumatized by the incidents they survived. On this date, their energy, their strength, their openness, their pride, and their determination acquired during six months were evident.

83 women healed themselves from the trauma in their bodies, a force that at one time had controlled them. Since January, these women have learned to jump out of their dark lives – which brought only suffering. They have become heroes, transforming their lives.

The graduates’ stay in the City of Joy was an antidote to each of their trauma. A time to fill the existential gap each felt and to reunite all the dismembered parts to become new beings who have broken the silence. The graduates returned to life in their communities to resist and make changes so that the path of equality between men and women could be created and patriarchy and hegemony denounced.

Through theater, the graduates showed the point where life began to be poisoned by evil before embarking on the organized effort to create a new, fabulous life. The fabulous aspect, that is to say a life that becomes exemplary, that of a unique adventure like the life lived by the heroes of legends. Through comedy, they proved their resiliency after going through a life of constant loss of self-esteem and suffering which they reversed into power. The victorious entry of this group into their respective communities leaves no doubt that the seeds of revolution have just been spread in more than 40 villages in South-Kivu and North-Kivu.

Three graduates of the City of Joy and a member of the staff testified in the closing ceremony and encouraged graduates by proving how they are financially independent and how they are leading their communities to peace and protecting the environment. Desanges Kabuo is one of the graduates of the seventh training session. Her testimony was a retrospective of her life as a victim of captivity by the rebels who drove her into the forest, escaping with a pregnancy. She explained how she survived the rape before portraying herself as a woman who breaks the silence and a woman who coordinates village women’s initiatives for financial autonomy in her community. Owner of a house and reference to whom women come to get inspiration, Desanges did not cease to recall that the ten guiding principles of the City of Joy, which helps each survivor to transform her pain into power, plays the role of a lamp post in all that she does to show her community that there is hope after despair.

Nsimire Hamuli is one of the graduates of the first training session who learned to read and write at the City of Joy. The reintegration kit she received served as a tool to plan her life and start a business. She raised goats, took advantage of the dry season to sell water and make huge profits, and farmed to produce corn to feed families during the food shortage in her area. From these profits, she bought a plot of land and is now building a permanent home while pursuing the business.

Siuzike Valentine has learned to love herself and her older daughter who she gave birth to after being raped. She wanted to kill her child because she believed her to be the source of her curse. Her testimony focused on the power of self-acceptance, love, and her determination to work to value her children and fight for their schooling. The work she does at the V-World Farm is the key for her to open all the doors that were closed when her life was dark and hopeless.

Pascasie has been connected to the City of Joy since the beginning of its construction. She participated in the masonry, carrying gravel while working as a day laborer. Since the opening of the City of Joy, her hidden talents have been manifested through her commitment and love of work. She was the cleaner before being promoted to the position of assistant storekeeper and storekeeper after. From masonry, Pascasie learned to do office work by learning computer skills to be able to manage the tools of stock management and the store in general.

We believe in the strength that each woman has acquired. We believe in the vision of each of them to go and put their skills, their knowledge, and their assets to the service of their community. We believe that the 1817 women we have already graduated are contributing to change that is redefining the norms of masculinity, protecting the environment and building an egalitarian society.

Bukavu, July 4, 2022
Christine Schuler Deschryver
V-DAY DR Congo