Dear Wondrous Supporters,
I write from Bukavu here at City of Joy which has become a Garden of Joy. It is hard to even imagine how much has grown since my last trip here in February and how much is growing now as I write this.
First let me begin with the place itself. City of Joy started three years ago in what was a virtual swamp. There were a few very small fruit trees barely shooting from the earth. Today the place is a diverse, colorful and soul expanding garden. Roses as tall as the sky and Bouganvillea so purple and alive it inspires dancing which happens all day long.
There are 200 chickens laying hundreds of eggs a day that the women and staff are then able to sell at the market.
There are many more goats and sheep and so many bunnies. There are vegetable gardens growing leeks, tomatoes, carrots, cabbages and so much more. One of my favorite things is that every Friday the girls gather to clean and prune and make City of Joy beautiful. It is such a deeply happy communal time.
The sixth class is here and they are an astonishing group. I have never seen such seeking spirits. They literally run from class to class devouring information, vision, therapy, healing, knowledge of their rights, cooking and sewing classes, computers, physical education, self-defense and sexual education.
These last days I have had the privilege of teaching theater classes with all the girls and I am in awe of how much they have grown and who they have become in the few months that they have been here. Today in one group one of the young women said she “felt the poisons had left her and paradise was in her body.”
I have sat in on computer classes and sex education taught by Dr. Mukwege where women are learning about everything from myths of pregnancy to avoiding fistulas to understanding the biology of their bodies to birth control.
I sat in on Mama Batchu teaching about marriage and inheritance rights. I have seen the women learning how to cultivate and compost and I have watched them learn hygiene and best practices for avoiding diseases particularly in the time of Ebola. I have seen stunning new bags and prototypes for new scarves that they are sewing and weaving.
I have watched our Mamas, who are now thriving in Friends of V-Day, cooking rice and fufu and corn and fish and chicken and sweet potatoes that come straight from our farm. I have watched the kindest most nurturing social workers, therapists, mothers, friends and nurses give every bit of themselves in helping each young woman turn her pain to power.
I also had the huge honor to participate in a National Gathering of V-Men hosted by V-Day where almost 70 men came from all over Congo to gather in a two-day forum to dialogue and envision a plan for a world where women are equal and free from violence.
I am so pleased that Ted Bunch from A Call to Men was able to come from the U.S. and share his most necessary training and skills and vision. There were impressive speeches given by many different men from various sectors in all 11 provinces of Congo and the outcome was concrete and energized.
I believe the seeds planted will spread throughout Congo. Of course, Dr. Mukwege, the godfather of the V-Mens movement inspired this gathering and City of Joy staff Patrick Lwaboshi, Jean Michel Mwambusa and Chira Nalundaja did excellent and devoted work to make sure everything went brilliantly.
This from one man in the workshop:
“I would like to express my feelings of satisfaction with the perfect forum held in Bukavu which I attended as a participant and speaker. Few people recognize the role that men should play in the promotion of women. Through this forum, people have become aware of their activism with women to banish all forms of discrimination against women and young girl around the world.
I remain convinced that as V-Men, negative social norms with respect to women will change and began to change.
I remain open to bring my expertise to the flame of the
fight against gender-based violence may never be extinguished!”
Our Mama C was responsible for managing the whole event of course. And this leads me to taking a necessary moment to sing her praises. As many of you know the conditions of Eastern Congo are deplorable. It is a broken infrastructure with devastated roads, occasional water and electricity and swallowing poverty due to so many factors – war, a dysfunctional and corrupt government, a world pillaging the minerals from the Congolese and creating violence which leaves people exiled in a city with no land to feed or support them. In this
place, Christine rises each day and finds her way here on a massively damaged and dangerous road and each day she leads City of Joy with so much care and discipline and love. Her leadership inspires all on this team of 50 to be equally inspirational and devoted, and her selflessness inspires the same.
I have never really seen a place like City of Joy anywhere in the world. It is a place of wild hysterical energy, blooming gardens, women coming back into their bodies and spirits and hearts, women running in the fields, children playing with total abandon. It is a place of brilliant colored panges in a dust which is at times glittering from the light generated from a community given to the transformation of suffering, teaching the skills of rising leadership in the service of revolution. And the particular quality of imagination is most astounding, the way everyone is seeing what is here, while simultaneously seeing what can be here. The way girls when we play theater games are able to quickly dissolve into characters and see alternative realities with such vividness and effect.
The farm has advanced beyond belief. There is a road now that wraps around most of the property and allows for much easier access to everything which of course saves money and time. And what a road it is!
The farm is alive with crops in every direction, beans, corn, rice (they just harvested 8 tons, cultivated 3 acres), avocadoes, oranges, lemons, sweet potatoes, peanuts, soya, tomatoes, onions. At high growth season up to 300 people are employed by the farm. We are in the early stages of Tilapia farming and there are over 200 healthy pigs.
The thing that is most impressive is the massive center that will function as offices, a warehouse for products, and eating and sleeping accommodation for workers. It is close to being completed, which will escalate activities in all directions.
Much work has been done to work in communication and cooperation with the surrounding community, who are now part of our whole project of living and will have a section of the land to cultivate. To date, ten former graduates of City of Joy are happily employed at the V-World farm and more will join them in the months and years to come.
The V-World farm is a masterpiece of beauty, cooperation, restoration, transformation and growth. It is a reminder that when we love the land, when we honor and cherish women’s bodies, there is astounding healing, growth and life.
I close now as I am trying to keep this short, but I want you to know that none of this would be possible without your love and support. I believe that the City of Joy and V-World farm are modeling not only a new community, but a new way of being in these very terrible and violent times. Our City of Joy is a pocket of light that lives in and expands out. Thank you for growing this light, for loving these amazing young women who will lead a new Congo.
My deepest love and gratitude,
In a few weeks there will be a follow up to this report where graduates of City of Joy share the wonderful stories of their lives today in their own voices.