Iraq - Big News!


Iraq - Big News!

Over the past few of weeks, we (Cassandra and Edison) have been traveling throughout Iraq and Syria developing relationships with our local partners on the ground and to check out the schools Justice Rising will be partnering with to rebuild and sponsor. It was also an amazing chance for us to get to know some of the students we’ll be coming alongside of. Through your support, hundreds of students will receive a quality education!

As many of you know, we’ve felt drawn to Iraq for some time now. And In April 2017, during our first scouting trip to the region, we connected with incredible locals working to rebuild their communities post ISIS occupation.

On that initial trip, we were heartbroken over the destruction left behind by ISIS during their three years of terror. We saw homes leveled, businesses destroyed and an underground network of tunnels, which allowed ISIS insurgents to move about undetected. The schools were also used as bases and, as ISIS was being pushed out by Iraqi security forces, they left behind a trail of destruction, further destroying schools and homes to spread fear and hopelessness.

Over a three year period, the people of this community lived in an IDP camp. While free from terror, much of the community still longed to return to their hometown, many of whom were quick to say, "Now that ISIS is gone, I want to go back home and return to my old life."

Traveling to Iraq proved more difficult this time around. Since the Kurdish referendum for independence last September, the Erbil International Airport has remained in forced closure. As a result, we rearranged our plans by flying into Turkey and traveling across the border by road! It was a long and exhausting journey, but well worth the trip.

When we finally arrived, we were greeted by members of the reconstruction committee for our partner community. They walked us through the village and showed us the homes that have already been rebuilt, the ones in the process of being rebuilt, and also met with families who have moved back home. We were encouraged to see that some of the schools were already up and running! While the road to recovery remains long, those who have returned home were overjoyed to be back in their village.


During our trip to Iraq, we had an opportunity to speak with the reconstruction committee about Justice Rising rebuilding the girls’ secondary school. While some girls have resumed their studies, joining the boys’ secondary school, the Ministry of Education requires that girls and boys are separated beginning in the 7th grade. As a result, many female secondary school students remain out of school but long to return.

This is where we come in! Justice Rising is officially moving forward in standing with these young ladies and to ensure they receive equal access and opportunities for quality education!

(Photo is of Edison and our Iraq team in front of the girls school)

Whether in Eastern Congo, Northern Iraq or another conflict area, one of our deeply held beliefs is that you cannot see sustained progress and long term development when only half the population are given real opportunities and options in life. In other words, girls need to be empowered with equal opportunities in order to see real progress in our communities.

We’re currently over half way to our fundraising goal for the girls' secondary school, but we still need your help. We’re looking for 5 (or more) community groups, including churches and other faith communities, schools and radical individuals who will take on a $5K portion to help us reach our funding target to get these bright young girls back into school!

Create a fundraiser on our website and get your friends and family involved. To get involved, please email

To give directly, click here: 

Also, stay tuned for more details on our recent trip. Next up, we'll share more on our upcoming projects in Syria!


#GivingTuesday: A Note from our Founders


#GivingTuesday: A Note from our Founders

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I was fighting back tears with everything inside of me. “I can’t cry. I won’t cry.” I had to self-talk myself into holding back the emotional floodgates threatening to burst...

We were just outside of Goma, in a small village called Mugunga, at the construction site of our seventh school. As construction kicked off, we began meeting with families in the village. One family immediately stood out to us – a single mother, along with her four daughters, had been displaced from war and recently settled within the community. Poor and traumatized, they were struggling to survive. The two oldest girls looked to be no more than three or four. To our surprise, we learned they were six and seven, respectively, and they were suffering from severe malnutrition.

The builders were still in the early process of construction, so our team frequently held rallies and community roundtables to discuss local needs. It was at that point we decided to intervene in the girls’ lives through basic food aid and nutrition training. When we returned to their home, however, it was already too late. Hope, the oldest of the four girls, had died the night before.

Everything inside of me wished I could go back in time – back to the moment I first saw her and held her tiny body. We had met so many desperate families, and so many malnourished children – how were we to know that she had so little time left? We sat there in silence with a grieving mother and her three remaining girls. What is there to say to a mother who has literally seen her Hope die?

It’s in these moments when we have to decide: will we believe that all hope is lost? Or will we choose to lift our eyes in order to see the silver lining?


We left their home that evening with even greater resolve and determination. There was still much work to be done.

Stepping back, we know that hope is not lost. In fact, we know that education can powerfully transform war-affected regions – we’ve borne witness to it. And with the support of our global partners, we can alter the trajectory of entire communities for generations to come. Through 2020, we aim to build 40 schools in various war zones – we call it our Vision 20/20 goal.

Through YOUR continued support, here are just a few highlights from 2017:

  • 1,400+ students enrolled and educated
  • 60+ teachers and faculty trained and employed
  • 7 schools in operation
  • 2 new schools completed
  • 2 schools ready for construction
  • Near 100% student pass rate on national exams

In order to reach our 40-school goal by 2020, we need all hands on deck. That means we need a team of advocates and volunteers, financial partners, teacher trainers, field staff, and back-end administrative staff. We know it’s an ambitious goal, but we’ve got big plans!

Next year, we are looking to break ground on EIGHT new schools, providing education opportunities to approximately 1,600 new students! Which is why we need your help… Through the end of this year, our goal is to raise $200K to help us forge ahead into new war-torn communities, including Syria and Iraq. We cannot wait to share more on our program expansion efforts!

Starting on Giving Tuesday (November 28th), we’ll be kicking off our year end campaign towards our Vision 20/20 goal to build 40 new schools. To make a year-end gift, click below!

 Thank you for your financial partnership!

Though we lost sweet Hope this year, we believe her death was not in vain. In the days after her passing, our local team checked the three girls into the hospital where they were immediately started on an emergency, high-caloric dietary plan. As for Hope’s mother, we were able to offer her a job as an interim cook for the construction workers and as custodian at the new school. Now, when we walk the dirt path to their home, we are greeted by three healthy girls with mile-wide grins!

Even in the midst of tragedy, now more than ever, we believe there is hope for a brighter future. THANK YOU for your continued support. We are excited for you to continue with us in our journey to transform war zones through education!


Edison & Cassandra Lee

Co-Founders, Justice Rising International






The Other Side of Syria


When we think of Syria, we often look back to recent reports we've seen in the news media -- the war, the gas bombings, the destroyed buildings. While these are very real aspects of the current situation, there is also an incredible beauty and vitality that is often overlooked, and we sometimes fail to think about the individual lives represented in those reports.

On Tuesday, October 17th, join our team in Los Angeles for a night of food and conversation, and come listen to the real life stories of a local Syrian woman living in LA that will endear and unite us in our shared humanity.

Together we will also enjoy a Syrian meal (vegetarian option available), home cooked (with love) by our guest.

To purchase your ticket, click below.




For our third week of Education Month, we're taking a deeper dive into girls' education. Educating girls goes far beyond learning and literacy — child and infant mortality drastically decreases, community health increases, and it results in the overall reduction of child marriages.

This week, we're featuring a story of young girl named Tumaini... I (Cassandra Lee) met her accidentally while I was visiting her neighbor, a twelve year old boy named Gaspar, who is a student in our secondary school.

Tumaini is eight. She wore a tattered dress and was busy sweeping the floor with a hand broom made from twigs.

“Jambo,” I greeted her softly. Her delicate frame and quiet demeanor made it seem like she would startle easily, and I didn’t want to scare her as a foreigner entering into her house. She shyly returned my greeting and continued on with her chores.

That could have been the end of the story. I was busy interviewing other community members and had many other people to see; all easy excuses to move on. But there was something about her that drew me in.

I turned to her again and asked if her mother was home. I then invited myself in for a more formal greeting, which is something that’s very common here.

The mother was nervous, but excited, to host us. She quickly grabbed a small stool for me to sit on, and another for one of our Congolese team members. She then turned and took a water jug to make a seat for herself.

We started asking her about her life. "Are you married? How many children do you have? Do your children go to school?"

Her story went something like this (I'll paraphrase): Years ago, rebels attacked her village in an area called Walikale in Eastern Congo. The attack was severe and everyone in her family was killed. With only a 3rd grade education and four children in her care, she moved to the village of Kalembe as she didn’t know where else to go. Her two oldest children have since moved away from home, and she’s left with the two youngest, Tumaini, age 8 and Daniel, age 6.

“Tumaini doesn’t have shoes and I don’t have money to buy her shoes, so she stays home with me and helps with the chores. Daniel has shoes so I sent him to school. Life is very hard,” she continued. “Some days I feel like I have no hope.”


This is exactly why we’re here. It is for families like hers. It is so she can be reminded that in the face of war and poverty, there is still hope for her. She may have lost a battle, but together, we can help to see her succeed.

We work extremely hard to get more girls to attend school. Today, we've achieved complete gender parity across our seven programs, a rare feat in rural contexts, and something we're very proud of.

Everywhere we go, there are families just like Tumaini’s who first prioritize education for their boys. In order to shift this widespread attitude, our team works diligently at the ground level, working with individual families to change mindsets.

To reach communities, we host education rallies that draw in hundreds of people to hear testimonies of the importance of girls' education and how it impacts the community for future generations. We go door to door and talk with parents about the challenges of sending their daughters to school, and how they can overcome challenges.


Educating girls, and women entrepreneurs, can help strengthen the local economy, even contributing to new employment opportunities. Girls with primary and secondary degrees earn higher wages and help prime the next generation for future success in school and beyond. Educated girls are also healthier and have healthier families. In fact, for each additional year of education a girl receives, infant mortality and child marriage statistics drastically decline!

Focusing on girls' education also helps to reduce extremism. In the face of war and conflict, educating girls helps bring peace and stability.

Simply put, educating girls transforms communities.

For Tumaini, her story is not over. With guidance and support from the Justice Rising team, Tumaini's mom now sees the value of saving and investing in shoes for her daughter, and in turn, her daughter's education. And with support from our global community, we plan to educate more girls just like Tumaini.


Girl Boss. Period.

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Girl Boss. Period.

In honor of Education Month, this week we’re taking a deeper look at barriers that students face when it comes to getting an education.

So for this blog we want to highlight a huge barrier for half the student population: periods.

In Congo, women and girls show all new meaning to the word “strength.” They work non-stop—cooking, cleaning, and child rearing—all without electricity or running water. They also have very limited access to basic amenities like soap, lack variety in their cooking or diet, and are without other basic household items.

They are our heroes.

So do you ever wonder, in the middle of the jungle, what girls do while they’re on their period? They can’t just run to the store and pick up a pack of tampons.

As a part of our Water, Sanitation and Health (WaSH) program, we train girls and women how to stay clean and safe during their monthly cycle.

This month, I (Co-founder Cassandra Lee) loved getting to sit in on the training. Here are some golden moments from our trainees during the lessons:

"When you look down and you see your period for the first time, you can be proud! You can say—‘I am a woman. I am courageous. I can carry children!’ Having your period is not a shameful thing. Talking about your period is not a shameful thing. You must be proud of who you are!” -Mama Rachel, JR WaSH Director


It’s estimated that one in ten girls miss school because of their period. By some estimates, this equals as much as twenty percent of a given school year. (UNESCO / World Bank)

"See, you must be courageous as a woman. Courageous and clean. You are so special with all the things your body can do. You must make sure to take care of it. You can make your own sanitary pads and don't let your period hold you back. Don't let it keep you out of school."

Instead of instructing our girls to buy pads, which are expensive and often hard to find in the villages, our trainers teach them how to make their own pads out of things they can find in the market.

It usually involves a small, inexpensive piece of mattress/sponge-like material, fabric, and string to sew with. They make their own reusable pad out of a pattern we give them. During the lesson we also give them everything they need to make their first pad, including needle and thread!

"Water is your best friend when you have your period. What's your best friend?”


This was stressed many times throughout the training. Many girls don’t know how to properly clean themselves during their cycles, either. It’s usually shameful to discuss, so women don’t talk to each other about it. They don’t talk about it with their daughters, and when their cycle arrive, they just stay home and wait until it passes.


“Now that you know how to make your pads, you can wear it knowing you are protected! You can go to school. You can go to the fields. There is no need to miss anything! If you ever need help, you can courageously talk to your female teachers, or other girls in this groupwe are all in this together!”

It was actually really incredible watching our team work. They crossed into culturally uncharted territories, and every girl in the class loved it, and hung on every word they said.

In Congo, it’s also very difficult to go to school if you are girl, and there is a clear discrepancy when it comes to literacy education. The literacy rate for girls sits at just 50%, while the literacy rate for boys in the DRC is nearly 80%. Teaching girls about something as simple as how to take care of their bodies while on their periods can help keep girls in school throughout the year and lowers dropout rates as they grow older.

At the end of the women’s health and safety classes, we also gave each participant a new pair of underwear, and a package of Kotex with instructions for how to use them. In our group for child mothers, many had never been taught this before. Some girls already had one, two or even three children, and yet, the majority had never really discussed their periods or basic care and hygiene during their cycle!


We are so proud of our team’s boldness and the work they continue to do with respects to women’s health and girls’ education. Period.

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Kicking off Education Month

This week marks the first week of classes for our Justice Rising Schools in the Congo!

We’re especially excited to announce that we now have...


This was made possible in large part because of our incredible community of financial partners! Thank you to all who continue to invest in our mission to transform war zones through education!

To kick off the start of the new school year, we’re celebrating with our 3rd annual Education Month.

This Education Month, we’re taking a deeper dive into the importance of education in war zones, the barriers students face concerning education, prioritizing girls' education, and we'll wrap up the month with an overview of our trauma care programs.

This week, we'll start off with the question of “Why Education?” What's its importance? 

  • Why are we so singularly focused on education when there are so many urgent needs in war zones?
  • Why do risk going to some of the worst-affected areas to build schools?
  • Why are we pushing to build 40 new schools in the next 5 years?

Well, it’s simple really: education is a game changer.

By increasing secondary enrollment in a war-affected region from 30% to 60%, you have the potential to HALVE the risk of conflict!


Imagine for a minute what it must be like for a young boy growing up with the constant threat of abduction, swept into a life of child soldiering. For girls, they risk being married while still a child or potentially a sex slave for rebel war lords.

Through education, we can decrease the direct threat of exploitation a child may face, and create a more healthy and peaceful future for entire communities for generations to come.

 Cassandra Lee, the Co-Founder of Justice Rising, had this to share:

I remember sitting with displaced families shortly after a difficult season of war. It wasn’t my first time sitting in a displaced persons camp, but that time it hit me differently. We were there to learn and listen, and family after family, story after story, people poured out their hearts with the horrors of conflict.

I had spent the last several years living in different war torn areas and was exhausted by the cycle of war and poverty I kept seeing. War and peace, raids and rest, one generation after another. And here I was again, same stories — I heard stories of children that had fled for days to escape rebel raids. They slept in rivers, hid in jungles, anything they could to not be abducted and now they were here, in an IDP camp, and had lost everything. With blank stares they told me over and over again that they had no hope. So what now?

I knew I wanted to respond, but how? What could I do that could write a different future where this cycle would stop repeating itself. I didn’t want to put a band-aid on the problem  I wanted to come up with a solution where we could raise up children who could one day stop the cycle of war.

And that’s when we started learning about the power, and importance, of education in war zones.

Stay tuned this week to learn more about how we can transform war zones through education.