City of Joy Celebrates First Graduating Class!
On January 28, V-Day and the Fondation Panzi (DRC) celebrated the first graduating class of City of Joy in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). City of Joy, a revolutionary community for women survivors of gender violence, opened its doors to the pilot class of 42 women this summer. V-Day Founder/Artistic Director Eve Ensler, Executive Director Susan Swan, Communications & Campaigns Manager Kate Fisher, photographer and long time V-Activist Paula Allen, and a delegation of incredible visionaries including V-Board members Pat Mitchell, Emily Scott Pottruck, and Amy Rao, and supporters Lauren Davis, Frannie Kieschnick, Belinda Munoz, Andrew Dew Steele, Erin Strain, and Marsha Williams all were welcomed at City of Joy to witness and celebrate the graduation ceremony of this first incredible class. Eve has written a note to all of you about the miracles that were witnessed at the graduation, please read:
I am rejoicing, breathing in the victory and glorious time in Bukavu, the joy and aliveness in the expressions of the women of City of Joy, the music of their rising, the intensity of their recovery and the aliveness of their dreams. I want to thank each one of you for making this happen. I want to thank you for your time and devotion and brilliance and faith and work and love. I want to do a special shout for our Mama Christine [V-Day Congo Director & Director of City of Joy Christine Schuler Deschryver] who birthed City of Joy with her might and heart and Mama Bachu [City of Joy Programs Director] who focused her energy and Mama care of our girls, and Dr. Mukwege whose love and gentleness and vision surrounds all things. I want to thank the wondrous team at City of Joy who with such care and attention loved 42 women back to life. Thank you everyone of you who made this miracle possible--who believed in the women of Congo, who know that miracles happen when you value and trust and support and nurture and get out of the way. We need your support and your faith until the rising...
Here's some that I witnessed this month at City of Joy:
Women who could not lift their heads six months ago, strutting across a stage.
Women who despised their bodies, radiating beauty.
Women who had lost their voices, giving speeches that lived not on paper or memory, but in their hearts.
Women who had stopped sleeping for years exploding with huge dreams.
Women who had become mute from horror, speaking poetry in just learned English.
Women who had stopped moving, knocking down attackers with powerful body shots.
Women who had stopped believing, planning their new jobs, careers, enterprises.
Women who felt like refugees in their own country, building a V movement, claiming Congo as their own, demanding an end to the war, to corruption, to impunity, to rape.
Women who had lost their will, dancing, drumming singing.
Women who were aggressive from sorrow and humiliation and pain, tender now, comforting their sisters.
A father who had rejected his daughter and told her she had no value, standing on stage beside her, reading a speech of praise and admiration.
A husband of a raped women coming from the audience to proudly take her home.
Pink roses budding the day before graduation in the garden.
A leader named Christine Shuler Deschryver making all these miracles happen in six months through her extraordinary leadership with an inspired, brilliant team.
A Mama named Bachu raising up 42 girls to heal through therapy, through dance, through massage, learning how to read and write, speak English, learn agriculture and composting and self defense and communications and civics and cooking and sewing.
A doctor named Mukwege teaching sex education, helping women get birth control, being role model, being Papa.
Two V-Day staff, a woman named Susan and a woman named Kate organizing and gathering and inspiring and giving gifts and making everything work.
A photographer named Paula making glorious images that rather than capturing, freed the images and spirits.
A group of supporters from the U.S. traveling all that way to dance, love, support the women with many stuffed suitcases full of practical and glittering gifts and love.
A V-Day team in other parts of the world making this day possible by their devotion and care.
V-Day activists and donors generously giving the funds and energy that allowed for this rising.
Jeanne who represents all the women, once destroyed by rape by militias by madness by the destruction of her body becoming Jane becoming warrior becoming beauty becoming whole becoming sister becoming change becoming Congo.
Here are Miracles that are on the way:
Women returning to their villages with money and cell phones and skills and each other to build the new life.
A City of Joy radio station we will start with AFEM, to create the loudest and most pervasive voice for and by women in eastern Congo and around the world.
A new group of 90 women who will begin February 14 at City of Joy sent by NGO's from all over Congo.
Land called V-World where we will grow the next stage of this movement. Where we will plant corn and rice and do pig farming and Talapia farming and create a cooperative run by hundreds of Congolese women expanding in every direction.
The revolution of women that has begun and will gather and will grow until the 42 become hundreds become thousands become millions of POWER FLOWERS, become a wild unstoppable garden popping up, blooming, in ever village, church, school, field and town.
All Photos by Paula Allen for V-Day