A Community of Incurable Optimists

There’s nothing quite so compelling as watching transformation in a child’s life. For students emerging from under the shadow of war, the journey from fear to confidence is not an easy one. Yet across Justice Rising’s schools, stories abound of young lives embracing a new kind of normal—one infused with hope.

Before: Foundation for Mwamini’s school

Before: Foundation for Mwamini’s school

When I first met Mwamini, the Justice Rising Congolese team and I sat down with her as she shared her story. At 8 years old she’d seen unspeakable horrors, experiencing the brutality of war firsthand. The traumatic images of loved ones lost to the violence haunted her daily. Her eyes filled with tears recounting the many terror-filled nights spent fleeing through the jungle from armed militia groups. Living in IDP camps, disease and mental illness ravaged her family. Survival was on the forefront of their minds, and the future seemed bleak.

Mwamini brightened describing the twinge of excitement she’d felt upon hearing a school was being built nearby. In the aftermath of war, getting an education seemed like an unattainable luxury – a privilege for other kids, but surely out of reach for her struggling family.  

After: Katherine Primary School

After: Katherine Primary School

Yet on the first day of school, there she was: timid and bright-eyed, wearing the slightly oversized school uniform her family scrounged up. Shyly slipping into her desk, she remembered the wonder of gazing up at the blackboard for the first time – a blank canvas for all the learning to come.

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but within a consistent, nurturing environment, confidence can blossom. Many students like Mwamini come from contexts where survival-mentality pervades, making it difficult to look beyond life’s daily struggles. However, in school they are exposed to a new normal, one not dominated by trauma or instability.

Education provides a window to the future, a glimpse into a reality beyond present circumstances. In Justice Rising schools, students are welcomed into a community of incurable optimists; they are encouraged to dream, to envision a brighter future for themselves and their nation. Every day students sing in unison, declaring with gusto, “Together we can change our country, restore hope to the broken-hearted."

Visiting Mwamini’s school is always a joy for me. I eagerly peak in her classroom window and chat with her during recess. Her expressive eyes reflect the shadows of war, but also an ever-increasing tenacity.

One day I was observing Mwamini’s class during a WASH program seminar. Justice Rising WASH director, Mama Rachel, was presenting on sanitation and disease prevention. As the seminar progressed, the instructor asked for a volunteer to lead a demonstration.  A hush settled over the classroom. The students hesitated – no one was eager to take the lead. In that moment, one little girl stood up. It was Mwamini. She walked determinedly to the front of the room, took a deep breath, and began to lead the demonstration. By the end of the exercise, she was beaming.  

In Mwamini’s small act of courage, I see her refusal to be silenced by fear. She’s seen some of the worst humanity has to offer, yet through education is learning to lead, to thrive, and believe for a brighter future. War will not have the final say in this little girl’s life.

While we rejoice in every story of transformation in our students, we are also keenly aware of the many communities still lacking access to education. In Congo, a school is so much more than an instructional facility – it’s a catalyst for change.


Liz Lampen, Justice Rising Leadership Development Program Manager

Justice Rising