Update on City of Joy; Successes, Challenges, and Unexpected Outcomes
Mama Bachu, City of Joy Program Director
On Saturday, January 28, V-Day and the Fondation Panzi (DRC), will celebrate 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 in June 2011.
The pilot year at City of Joy has proven to be challenging, inspiring, and transformative. The majority of the last twelve months has been filled with incredible highs, from the resident's empowerment through the advancement in the fields of literacy, self-defence, communication, and political and civic education, to the mental, physical, and spiritual healing through therapy and massage. However through all of the success with this first class, the year did not begin as expected. Following the February 2011, heavy rains revealed significant defects with the construction that Unicef had overseen, and we were required to make alterations to some of the living quarters, dining hall, classrooms, bathrooms, and offices. Our staff of 21 quickly mobilized to accommodate as many women as possible and we therefore began our first class in June 2011 with 42 women, instead of the intended 90 we had originally thought would begin the pilot year. The construction also meant that we could not accept women with children in the first class, as it seemed too dangerous to have children on the site while the construction was taking place.
Though this set-back was disappointing, the smaller class size has proven very beneficial, as it has allowed the core staff, lead by Program Director Mama Bachu, to work closely with the women and has given them the time to get a sense of how the various components of the program are working together. In everyway, we are at an experimental stage of the project with our pioneering first class.
As we approach the end of our 6-month period with the first class, we can already see a marked change in the women. As Christine Schuler Deschryver, the Director of City of Joy stated, "A comparison can be made between the period the residents came to the City of Joy and the present moment. On their fresh arrival at the City of Joy, there could be seen signs of despair, discouragement, dis-esteem or underestimation, loneliness, and other negative traits on the faces of residents. In the course of time, with the contribution of the trainings in the program, the residents have little by little been helped to use their encountered difficulties as a source of empowerment by moving from pain to power. To make it possible, the residents are subjects to trainings that will help them revolutionize their communities."
Staff have carved out a diverse and impactful program at the City of Joy. Classes are going well as women are gaining a great deal from them, both emotionally and intellectually. Following is a brief overview of the programming being offered by staff at the moment:
Civic and Political Education >
Civil Rights >
Comprehensive Sexuality Education >
Physical Education >
Horticulture and Green Programming >
Culinary arts >
Data processing >
Psychotherapy: Residents are working towards emotional recovery from their trauma. Through groups and within the larger community context, staff are working with women to name their trauma and move through it. Recently, meetings in psychotherapy have been reinforced by training in a treatment called TTT -Trauma Tapping Treatment - which was taught by a Swedish Psychotherapist named Guinilla Hanne. TTT is part and parcel of Energy Psychology. It is a different approach compared to traditional psychotherapeutic methods since it is a body based treatment, i.e. you treat specific healing points on the body to relax the mind. Staff implementing therapy programming were initially trained by therapist Elayne Doughty in 2010. Elayne will be returning in February 2012 to do another training where staff will focus specifically on how to support women who have transitioned out of the program, how to manage feelings of separation from the first class, and how to prepare for a larger class of 90 women.
Civic and Political Education: Women are gaining education in civic engagement, providing them with a base from which to responsibly serve their communities and country when they transition out of the City of Joy. This is a key foundation to each woman's experience at the City of Joy, and is the basis on which their activism on the community level will be carried out. Women are also being educated on the electoral process and voted - many for the first time - in the presidential and legislative elections that took place on November 28, 2011.
"It was my very first experience to cast my vote. I was extremely happy because I had to make the choice of the president and the deputy who meet my criteria, i.e. I always wish I were led by intellectual leaders who are ready to work for the welfare of the population...By means of the theory I acquired all along my training at City of Joy in Civic and Political Education, I decided not to be influenced by any person because of material gain for I really want my country to change."
- Ali Sandra Bavura
Communication: Residents have been provided with an overview of communications techniques, which includes producing a radio program, photographing, and telling their own stories. The training ended with a six-day practice at a local radio station in Bukavu. Women and staff also participated in a press conference, informing the local media about the City of Joy's programming and goals.
Women in the first class learning how to use their cameras
Literacy: It has been established that 18 out of the 42 enrolled residents to the first session at the City of Joy are illiterate. Women are working hard at improving their literacy skills. Students have focused on Swahili and are now beginning French and calculation. All students were tested to determine the impact of the training. Results showed that most learners assimilated the lessons that they learned, and are capable of reading and writing effectively in Swahili.
English: Implemented by a trainer from KALI (Kivu American Language Institute), the learners' group is split into two small groups - beginners (level 0), and those who have some acquaintance with the English Language (level 1). Residents are now able to use expressions used in communicative English.
Self-Defense: Staff from long-time V-Day partner, Dolphin Anti Rape and AIDS, travelled from Kenya to Bukavu and trained the first class and staff in self-defense techniques over the course of 10 days. Women felt empowered by the experience.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Panzi Hospital Founder Dr. Denis Mukwege provides training in comprehensive sexuality weekly. The process has been incredibly powerful for women, as they are now in possession of knowledge about how their bodies work and how to best take care of themselves. This is vital information, and key to women's overall wellbeing. Women are covering issues such as family planning, HIV/AIDS, and planning for life after the City of Joy.
Massage: Women have been trained in using massage as a therapeutic process. The integration of massage into the program menu has helped residents relax and rest so that their bodies can heal them from their trauma.
Christine exercises with women residents at City of Joy
Horticulture and Green Programming: Construction repair required that green programming start late in the class period. Residents of City of Joy are being initiated to agricultural and pastoral techniques/activities, and protective methods of the environment, giving the women a solid foundation in green programing so that they are confident to launch such projects in their respective communities after graduation. During the last week of October, women began training in how to compost. Women are in the process of building their own compost site for a future agricultural field V-Day hopes to acquire. A garden has been created in collaboration with the Friends of V-DAY (the collective of women builders who helped build the City of Joy). The space is almost covered by a green lawn except where construction work is still being done. Rabbits have also been purchased and women are learning how to farm and take care of livestock.
Culinary arts: Residents are receiving training in the culinary arts. They are learning basic cooking techniques - skills they can leverage into a business. They have learned, for example, how to make fritters, crisps, and doughnuts.
Data processing: 11 of our residents have been chosen for training at the Panzi Institute of Medical Techniques where they are learning basic computer skills. There is much excitement around this program, and once our tech center is up and running this program can happen at the City of Joy site.