Blog: Dispatches from Bukavu and Beyond

Update from Eve in Bukavu

Dear V-Day Supporters,

I am writing to you today from Bukavu, a delicious morning – a sweater of heat, soft wind, and a sweeping melody of feisty birds. The smell of jasmine drifts and palms sway, all infused with the holy sound of church drums and singers in the distance.

Thanks to all of you for your glorious support and for being part of this community that is creating and spreading an oasis of transformation, healing, and love.

Both City of Joy and V-World Farm are thriving in ways we never could have imagined. Not only have we recently harvested seven tons of rice, but by the end of May we will have graduated more than 400 young women who have changed their own lives and are now impacting the lives of those in their communities. City of Joy has become a full fledged garden in all respects, the thick purple bougainvillea, the six foot roses, the compost pile host to a stunning garden of cabbage and carrots, 300 new chickens.

The women attending City of Joy are beautiful in their hearts, bodies, and spirits. Their energy is nothing short of radiant and electric. Their dance is the dance of those who returned from the edge, who have stepped into their bodies and vitality, released their shame and rage and hurt, and are now ready to seize the world.

The young women at City of Joy are hungry to learn and hungry to share what they have learned. You can see this in all their programs from literacy, English, and computers, to human rights, self-defense, and sex education. The women have also made a most wonderful CD of original songs and a stunning music video. There is much creativity and art emerging from City of Joy.

We also see the political impact of the program in the way girls are asking questions of the government, demanding their rights, rising for justice in the streets of Bukavu.

V-World Farm

Here’s what’s new: an incredible road that facilitates better access to both sides of the land. We just harvested seven tons of rice. We had 10 pigs a years ago, now we have 168 pigs. There are eight ponds full of leaping Tilapia. There are ten young women from City Of Joy who work the lands and all of the City of Joy residents learn agriculture at the farm. There are avocados, Macademia nuts, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and orange trees.

The farm is now growing much of the food for City of Joy, reducing our budget. We are mid-construction on the administrative building and warehouse. Everything at V-World is recycled, all trees are turned into wood for building. We even make our own cement. We are incredibly grateful to the 11th Hour Project for making it all possible!

V-Men

For years now the V-Men movement has been evolving both in Congo and around the world. Dr. Mukwege, the Godfather of this movement, was awarded the inaugural V-Men award (established in his name) in 2008 at the Superdome in New Orleans. For months a core group of 20 men have been meeting in Bukavu, designing a vision of what this movement looks like and what it means to be a VMan. The selection of the 20 men was based on commitment and background. They were chosen by other local men who love and respect women. The group has advocates from a multitude of sectors including lawyers, teachers, doctors, a basketball referee, a psychologist, activists, military men and policeman.

At the first meeting the group discussed the origin of V-Men. They acknowledged the glaring gap in the feminist movement, which fights against violence against women. In order to bridge this gap, they decided they needed men to work in solidarity with women and share the same vision. It is clear that men have largely ignored their responsibility in the community, namely to help protect women, speak out against the atrocities, actively be equal partners, and support women to go further and become leaders. Being a V-Man means breaking out of what Tony Porter calls the “Man Box.” The V-Men group decided to create a declaration that calls forth other men to join. The statement aims to announce that there are Congolese men who are committed and open and ready to fight with women to end this violence.

We were all in awe to witness this historic launching in South Kivu of the V-Men’s movement and public reading of the proclamation, done in chorus by the 20 men, including Marcellin Cishambo Ruhoya, Governor of South Kivu, who has committed to sponsor a national gathering of men from all over the country to escalate the movement.

One of the founders, Patrick Lwaboshi said, “The idea is to spread the seeds of the movement all over the Congo and the world. I joined the movement after working by the side of women for 5 years and after discovering men can easily convince other men to end violence against women. Many of us men are tired and heart broken to keep hearing the stories of rape and violence.”

The launch on March 7, the eve of International Women’s Day, was wildly successful and many men joined the movement. It was picked up by press all over the world, motivating other men to do the same.

Mayo Doctors

I would like to take this moment to honor some amazing doctors, three of whom actually saved my own life when I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Deborah Rhodes, Sean Dowdy, Eric Dozois, Emanuel Trabuco and nurse practitioner, Lois McGuire all traveled from the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. to Panzi Hospital and spent days performing operations and lectures with Dr. Mukwege. All of us at V-Day and City of Joy thank them for their amazing generosity and all the medical supplies they brought with them thanks to the Americares organization. We are overjoyed they came to dance with us at City of Joy on the last day of their visit.

A World of Thanks

And I want to thank every person who has done an event, organized a run, raised money at their high school, college, office, or church, by climbing mountains, throwing parties, or simply sending a check and telling their friends about our work. Your support and connection is crucial to our efforts. We cannot do this without you and we are forever grateful for your being with us and staying with us.

Thanks also to our incredible donors who are joined in community in the Circle of Joy (If you would like to join this circle, please let us know, contact development@vday.org). Their very generous donations and vision have allowed so much to happen.

My deepest love and gratitude to you all,

Eve