The City of Joy’s 11th Class Graduates:
89 Women Join 849 Others

By Christine Schuler Deschryver
City of Joy and V-Day Congo Director

Since January 18th, City of Joy sheltered 89 women who have survived some of the harshest stories in the world. These women came from many villages of North and South Kivu provinces of DRC. Their quest was to transform their pain to power. During the transformation process, they had time to tell their stories, to dress their wounds and build their capacities. It was such a journey of healing, one that invited each woman to tell the truth about what she went through, to use what she had been through to fuel a revolution, and to decide to stop waiting to be rescued. Along the stay, 89 women went through therapy for their emotional healing and through capacity building training so that they leave the program as change makers.

From the first month to the last, each woman had enough time to assess and share how she was moving from a survivor to a leader. She was able to tell how strong she had become so that she could go back to her community and make change, beginning with her nuclear family. For example, some women took up space and shared how they will denounce early marriage and any case of rape (and other unpunished offences) which many people – especially local authorities – deny and minimize in their communities.

During this session, City of Joy was visited by some of our past graduates who came back to support and encourage their sisters who were on their way to changing and healing. Most of the women came without being invited. They came spontaneously to greet their sisters and share about how they are doing business or running self-help activities for their economic independence. Some others came to share how they joined Village Savings and Loan Associations with the aim to save with other people and take small loans from those savings. They invited 11th class women to do the same activities, which will provide simple savings and loan facilities as many communities do not have easy access to formal financial services.

The graduation day was the celebration of victory over past trauma. It was a day during which each woman declared being healed and transformed. It was a day of femininity. It was a day of happiness and fierce brilliance. Among the invitees were Panzi Foundation staff members, City of Joy graduates and neighbors of City of Joy. The organization of the graduation ceremony was the initiative of 89 City of Joy graduates. They wished to organize a fashion show to show how elegantly they can now walk – not as they used to do when they were carrying the burden of trauma in their communities. They wished to perform scenes to show how the training in nutrition, communication, gender rights, conflict resolution, etc. helped them in their healing process and how they will prove their activism in their communities.

Separation made the community of City of Joy shed tears. Everybody regretted knowing people with who they had already created bonds of sisterhood and love will move forward for another mission. Graduates also declared they will miss the love, warmth, peace and other benefits of City of Joy. But the thrill of each woman to go and join her community to lead was promising and bold.

We are proud to share some stories of graduates who joined their sisters on graduation day. These graduates of former classes came to tell the audience and the 11th class women the impact of City of Joy on their life. Two gave testimonies. The first said how she put the ingredients of the training into practice when she decided to go back to university and to graduate nursing after three years. She is now healing people. She legally married a man who fell in love with her and is coordinating the activities of about 20 graduates in Goma who own their farm and grow Irish potatoes that they supply to City of Joy. She also insisted that all these achievements could not be possible if City of Joy did not benefit her and if she did not accept to release her past trauma.

The other graduate talked about her success since she rejoined her village and how differently she lived before the City of Joy. She talked about how she lived as a survivor before she came to City of Joy and about her anger and trauma. She explained how she initially hated her child who resulted from rape. She also explained how she was able to connect to her child because of what she gained at City of Joy. She explained how she is working in the V-World farm and earns a living with her salary.

Bukavu, June 20th, 2017

Photo Credit: Carlos Schuler