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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