On Thursday, 19 December, City of Joy graduated 87 women of the 14th class. These women join 1117 others to make a network of 1204 graduates of City of Joy in the Congo. In a moment of pride, the day was unique in the life of each graduate as it marks the celebration of the coming back to her body after being a victim and survivor in her community and a leader through therapy and leadership training at the transformative City of Joy center.

The performance made by the graduates during the ceremony reflected how they were traumatized and stigmatized in communities of broken down values, fragmented principles, violated laws, and more. But the graduation day called the participants’ attention to the holistic beauty of the moment of celebrating graduates’ renaissance at City of Joy and their victorious entrance in their communities as change makers.

It is only six months in which miracles have been made in the life of each resident of City of Joy. It is only six months of love since women entered the gate of City of Joy for the first time fearing their solitude created by men -known and unknown- who destroyed them and made them feel insecure in their bodies.

It is only six months ago when brave, determined women began to build up their lives on a daily basis. It is six months ago when women met in a community of sisterhood and with people who took their problem to heart.

Six months have passed since 87 women felt that the peak of achievement and the new wind of revolution waited for them. And on their graduation the new wind has taken them fully alive to their communities to lead and tell other women to protect their most precious resources, their vaginas.

The celebration and testimonies during the graduation proved that there is pride in the eyes of graduates, there is hope in their hearts and there are plans for glory, revolution, and change in their minds. They have demonstrated it through theater and humor.

Graduates acknowledged that they are in a world of interminable wars, in a country of corruption, hegemony, patriarchy and famine amidst incomparable wealth. But they have been privileged to spend six months in a place where they have known their rights and have been equipped with skills to be economically independent and demand their rights when they are violated.

To cite the declarations of graduates, many of them said that nothing will replace their focus on the vision they have to become free and independent in their communities. Nothing will prevent them from helping other women know and demand their rights. Nothing will stop them talking about women’s liberation from retrograde ways and customs, hegemonic masculinity, and the subordination of women. Nothing will prevent them from making their ideas flourish and benefit their families and communities. Nothing will take away the need to change paradigms and any beliefs which undervalue women. Nothing will replace the need to aim higher, to live their dreams, to be proud and courageous in the face of adversity because they want to be “the change they want to see”.

87 women have joined their villages after making strong relationships at the City of Joy. The staff and graduates will remain close and will continue rising for women’s rights. They will keep denouncing any violation of the rights of women. This rising will be made a way of life in their families and communities.

We thank V-Day,

We thank V (formerly Eve Ensler),

We thank all our V-friends,

For having believed in the City of Joy program and for having been the wind behind our backs to help women survivors of gender violence heal and build their future.

In solidarity!


Bukavu, 20 December 2018

Photos: Carlos Schuler