The Trials of Thereza, an Urban Refugee in Uganda

The Trials of Thereza, an Urban Refugee in Uganda

In a slum in the heart of Nsambya, a suburb in Kampala, lives 53-year-old Thereza. On the day we visited her, we met her three grandchildren, one was carrying a small raggedy mattress, another a charcoal stove on his head, another child, a bundle of clothes on her head. We asked them where they were going to, the kids told us that they were shifting to a new house. It is when we began to talk to Theresa that she told us that she had just been evicted from the house that she had been staying in and that this was a temporary shelter.

“A good person has offered this house for us to occupy in the meantime. It is up for rent, if a tenant shows up, we will have to vacate immediately. We are waiting for InterAid to help us.”

“We fled to Uganda in 2012 our village was attacked by Ntaganda’s rebels. They were recruiting me and my children to join them. I refused to join. They gang-raped me. I was unconscious. They left me, thinking that I was dead. When I regained consciousness, I could not move.  I screamed. Someone heard me and came to rescue me. ” She says with tears running down her face.

Bosco Ntaganda also known as  “Terminator Tango” or “The Terminator” was a leader of NCDP, an armed militia group operating in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was  first indicted in 2006 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity  during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s bloody five-year war.

Victoria sends one of her grandkids to bring her medical forms for me to see. She was diagnosed with severe lower back pain, severe narrowing of the vertebral disc space and vertebrae soft tissues.

“Something is pulling my muscle.” She clenches her teeth.

“I used to sell fish in Katwe market but my health has deteriorated. I can hardly walk.”

This sickness can’t allow her to go and work yet she has ten mouths to feed, her grandkids, two kids of a neighbor that was killed back home, whom she carried along to help.

“My grandkids scavenge around the slum food stalls collecting scraps of food, My girls have started selling their bodies to bring food to the table, the boys that I came with have run away into the city leaving me with the kids. I don’t even know where they are.”

Thereza starts to cry loudly.

“I have told Maria from UNHCR to help me  she said that she would help me but I am still waiting. I am sick. I have no future here. The doctors wrote to them so that they can help me. One day, my daughters carried me to the office but the officers said that I should wait a little longer. What can I do?”

Thereza tells me that she is well aware that all people in the slum she is living in  are struggling.

“But them, when the worst comes to the worst, they go back to their villages,  as for me, I have nowhere to go. Everything I had was taken away from me. I don’t have a home.”

Thereza is an example that the Urban refugee programme in Uganda is stretched. It is clear that Uganda can no longer take care of all the refugees that they take in.

The ratio of refugees to nationals is 1:15 in Kampala and the majority of these refugees originate from  the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Uganda is currently hosting the highest number of refugees this year compared to the past years according to UNHCR the highest number of refugees in Uganda is from South Sudan (1,053,598), DRC (276,570), Burundi, (40,497), others, (37,015), Somalia, (37,193), total refugees in Kampala according to Uganda solidarity summit on refugees is 96,650.

The Militia Man That Killed My Husband Wanted Me to Marry Him #WithRefugees

The Militia Man That Killed My Husband Wanted Me to Marry Him #WithRefugees

Before Maombi was displaced from her a village in  Rutshuru region, North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), She had a good life, she and her husband had property, were successful farmers until when her family became a target of a ruthless armed militia that was determined to destroy them. Her only crime was that she was from a different tribe.

“December 2010, the army men raided our home three times; the first time, they robbed our house, looted everything. A week later, took me away, they raped me, tortured me, beat me up and dumped me at a bush near my house. The third raid was on a Sunday evening; this time, they took my husband away. I got worried when he didn’t return home, my neighbours knew what was going on, we began searching for him. On Monday evening after a long day’s search, we found my husband’s body lying lifeless in the bush with what looked like severe torture wounds. I was devastated. On the evening of the burial, an army vehicle came to my compound, the rugged-looking army commander that had captured and killed my husband stepped out, he said that he was asking me to marry him. He said that that he was giving me one week to get back to him with an answer. He pointed at my husband’s fresh grave. “You’ll follow him if you refuse to marry me.”  We were sleeping in the bushes near our home. Two nights later, we heard people coming to our home, I held the younger kids; I told the older ones to run. I hid at my friend’s home overnight. My friend told me about a man that transported goods across the border to Uganda. She asked me not to worry about the two older kids. That she would make sure she gets them someone to bring them to Uganda. She was confident because she was from the tribe that wasn’t being hunted. He agreed to transport us. He put us in his truck with the maize that he was transporting. We reached Kasindi border through Bwera.

At the border, I was quiet, the truck driver is the only one that spoke. I had no paperwork, nothing. I dont know what he said to them but they did not ask me anything. He drove us to Kampala. I wasn’t thinking about my next move when I got to Kampala. He dropped me at the Gaaga bus terminal. I overheard a woman speaking Kiswahili, I walked to her, I told her all my problems. She didn’t know how to help but she told me that she knew a church that had several Congolese refugees. She paid my boda-boda fare. The church received me with open arms. They gave me food and a place for me and my kids to sleep. I asked people to take me to police but many were hesitant, two months later, I got someone that accompanied me to the police station. The police gave me a refugee card and told me to go to the Office of the Prime Minister where I received and an asylum seeker card.

I called Mama Gideon the kind lady that I had met at the Gaaga bus terminal, she was happy to hear from me. I told her that I wanted to start a business but I didn’t have start-up capital. Mama Gideon gave me 100,000 Uganda shillings. I began hawking necklaces around the city. So we formed a group as Congolese women. We started saving. I was able to rent a house in Makindye. Kampala City Council Authority was chasing away all vendors so trading on the streets was proving difficult. It is during this period that I began to feel sick, I didn’t know why because I had always been a strong woman. I went to InterAid because they give free medical care to refugees. After telling them my history, they carried out HIV tests. I tested positive. I couldn’t walk long distances like before, and I was tired of the running battles with KCCA.  So I was not making as many sales as before. At InterAid, they told me about two children that had a story that seemed to fit mine. They showed me their files, they were my children. I was so happy that they had made it. We were reunited.  When the children came, someone at church told me about Jesuit Refugee Council in Nsambya that sponsor children. They help with my kids’ education. I am hopeful that life will change. Life is difficult here, rent is due two months, one of my girls has dropped out of school to help support the family. I just wish they could find us a third country. going back home is not an option because those that tortured us and killed my husband will come for my children.”

Sexual violence has continued to be used as a tool for war, targeting victims on basis of their actual or perceived ethnicity. It has been employed as a tactic, of ethnic hatred, even ethnic cleansing. It is one of the least reported crimes, yet the victims suffer shame, stigma – consequences felt for a lifetime.

But seeking justice is the last thing on Maombi’s mind right now. The daily struggles with poverty in the Ugandan slums are her preoccupation as she seeks to give her children a better life against all odds. She is one of Kampala’s  350,000 registered refugees.

Caught in the middle of a tribal clash, Mweso found himself without a place to call home. #WithRefugees

Caught in the middle of a tribal clash, Mweso found himself without a place to call home. #WithRefugees

Twenty-two-year-old Jacque Mweso fled his hometown Bukavu in 2016, he sought refuge at his uncle’s home in Bigo, Bunia only for him to be caught in a tribal clash that displaced and scattered his remaining family.

“Earlier this year, tribes were fighting; the Bajegere, Bahema and Balendu started killing each other. On the morning of the attack, at around nine, we heard screams across the village, the men were killing everyone that was not of their tribe. We fled in different directions, I joined a large group of people that was fleeing from other villages. For three days and three nights, we walked until we reached the shores of Lake Albert.

We took a boat.

Each one was charged 20,000 Congolese francs. Luckily for me, I had some money in my pocket. We were twenty people on the engine boat. After several hours on the lake, we were on the other side, at Sebagoro in Uganda. At the shores, there was a refugee bureau that received us. The following morning, a bus came for us and we were taken to Kyangwali refugee camp.

At Kyangwali, I was given a piece of land about ten by ten meters, they gave us meals. I was hoping that my uncle would join us soon. My uncle never came. I have never heard from anyone again.

I made a Ugandan friend that came to the camp frequently, he told me about Kampala. I wanted a job. He promised me one. In April, I came to Kampala with my friend. Then I arrived, things were not as clear as I had imagined. Days later, I never saw him again, he had disappeared in Kampala’s large crowds.

Here I was, I don’t know Luganda, neither do I speak English. I tried to speak Kiswahili but almost all the Ugandans I spoke to did not know any Kiswahili. One night I slept on a woman’s veranda here in Katwe, she asked me why I was sleeping outside. I narrated my ordeal. She told me that she knew a church that had many Congolese refugees. She took me to the church. They received me. In my bag, I was carrying a mosquito net that I had been given at the camp. It is one of my few possessions so I thought it was a good idea to add it in my small backpack. The pastor of the church told me that they would offer me a place to sleep. Two months now, I sleep on the floor of the church. I lay my mosquito net on the floor, and I sleep on it. I got a job to work as a porter on a building, the project is complete so the job is over. I am looking for another one. I was studying welding when that clash in my village broke out. I can weld, I can porter at buildings, I can do all sorts of menial work. I am desperately searching. I hope that something will come up soon.

 

#WithRefugees #WorldRefugeeDay

Breaking the Silence to End Sexual Harassment at workplaces in Uganda #SolidarityWins

Breaking the Silence to End Sexual Harassment at workplaces in Uganda #SolidarityWins

“On a project that I was working on, we had to work with Members of Parliament for their input on a legislation we were drafting. So, we went to parliament, to meet with them. As we were walking towards the room, one MP saw me, walked to me and then he started rubbing my back. He then he looked at my arms and said, “Oh my God you have very hairy arms”. He asked me If I understood what that meant to which I said I did not. He then said that “it means that during sex you’ll be very wet” and he could only imagine that the sex must be sweet. This was really annoying, he was a vulgar person, remember, this is the first day I had met him, that was 2013. Later, as we were seated around a table; myself, an Intern, and some other people he was saying sexually explicit stuff. That is one example. At my place of work, my supervisor kept telling me that I look sexy, the accountant in the same organization one day told me that I really really have big boobs. This made me feel very uncomfortable.” Sarah, a 28-year-old Human Rights Lawyer revealed to me. She was young, her career had just begun, so she decided keep this to herself scared of the bullying, stigma, shaming that comes with speaking out. Until today, she is not comfortable with speaking out about the ordeals.

In Uganda, sexual harassment at work places, though prevalent is seldom spoken about. Uganda’s 2016 demographic and health survey found that more than one in five women report having experienced sexual violence. Mostly, the vice finds its safe haven in silence, stigma, weak policies, high unemployment levels as I would discover when I asked a sample of corporate women where they would seek redress if ever faced with sexual harassment at work;

Eva, a 25-year-old Marketing Executive believes that “Reporting sexual harassment in this country and pointing out the committer leads to losing your job and sometimes no employer wants to work with you after that. And in this economy, we do not have rich parents or a lot of money to fall back to, so most of us will prefer silence to talking about it.”

Sandra, 26, a Social Worker said that “If ever I am sexually harassed, I would be afraid to report the case to the police because I believe most of the police stations do not have a gender desk and for the cases, I have heard, most times the blame is shifted on women.”

Kemigisha, 19, says that “I would report my case to the police but I would never share this issue on social media because I wouldn’t want the attention that comes with social media. I don’t be want to be labeled a whore – you know how our society is.”

Izzy, 32, a youth rights advocate says that “It really would depend on the harassment faced. If someone catcalled me, I wouldn’t report it. But if I had a near rape experience or an actual rape I would report the case to police.”

These responses offer insight on why coming out to speak about sexual harassment can be complicated.

 The question is, how can we foster solidarity to strengthen the violence against women prevention movement?

Knowing that silence is the frontline enemy, speaking up is an act of defiance. Collective campaigns like #Metoo #AidToo have given a voice to women to speak up. The key thing is for women to know that they have agency over their bodies, what they do with them is a dictatorship.

Facilitating Human Resource managers to understand what sexual harassment actually means will enable them to consistently pass on this message to staff members to keep it fresh in the organizations, not for the policies to just sit on shelves only to be presented during the auditing season.

In addition, workplaces ought to create safe spaces where staff members can unreservedly report cases major or minor.

“Workplaces should put in place policies against any form of sexual harassment and make avenues through which cases can be reported.  I would have a participatory session with the staff to know their understanding of sexual harassment in the work place, then use their views to build a policy which is accustomed for the work environment and one that’s clearly understood by the staff.  I would create confidential avenues, like an anonymous email chain where these issues can be reported, suggestion boxes among others.” Beatrice a 25-year-old Administrative Assistant suggested.

Safe spaces to speak up about sexual harassment come in handy; Not Your Body offers a great example of how an online platform has taken strides in creating a space where Ugandan women can speak about their experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination. Social media has indeed offered a voice to Ugandan women.

Police has to stand up to the times, the force should be equipped to understand how to deal with sexual harassment issues rather than trivialize the cases that are reported; Lindsey Kukunda speaking to News Deeply mentioned that “I also had a personal experience when I attempted to report sexual harassment to the police. I was lectured and made to feel like it was my fault, and this experience made me wonder what there was to do about it. It also made me wonder how many other women experienced something similar and also didn’t know what to do about it.”

Whatever means work for women in protecting themselves against sexual harassment, these means should be applied because ultimately, women’s lives matter.

From 14th – 16th June, 2018, join an online campaign on the theme Solidarity Wins for Stronger VAW Prevention Movements” by the Gender Based Violence Prevention Network, coordinated by Raising Voices in Uganda. Join the conversation on #SolidarityWins

Does it Still Take a Village to Raise a Child in Africa?

Does it Still Take a Village to Raise a Child in Africa?

Children playing in the outskirts  of Kampala. Photo Credit: Katumba Badru.

Who is a child in Africa? I asked.

I got various answers ranging from a child is a young human, some said that a child is one that is owned and accepted by the parents, for some even at 20, African parents still consider you a child as long as you live under their roof. In some cultures, a woman will always be seen as a child- her husband her leader, some mentioned that a man will always be a child and so should be cosseted as such by his wife.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as “a human being below the age of 18 years.”

It takes a village to raise a child. This is a proverb that seemed to be the governing philosophy for Africans on how they take care of their children. The man Masaba comes to my mind, as long as  parents knew that Masaba was in the village, they would never worry about us, if Masaba found you loitering in the village, he would beat you with a stick chasing you to go back home, a story had been told of him using a nettle plant that was common on pathways in my village to sting the kids that behaved badly.

But what went wrong, look at all the abuses that children of Africa have to endure; those that were meant to protect are now predators – early marriages, child prostitution In South Africa, Female Genital Mutilation among the Sabiny in Uganda, Pokot in Kenya, in Somalia, Ethiopia and many other African countries still persists. In Egypt, there is something called holiday wives, these under-age Egyptian girls enter temporary marriages with rich tourists from the Persian Gulf during the summer in return for money for their families. ‘These arrangements are often facilitated by the girls’ parents and marriage brokers.’

Map showing the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in Africa  2013

According to Girls not Brides,

   Approximately 39% of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are married off before the age of 18 all African countries are faced with the challenge of child marriage, where they experience high-child marriage prevalence, such as Niger (76%) or lower rates like Algeria (3%). Child marriage is widespread in West and Central Africa (42%) as well as Eastern and Southern Africa (36%).

Recently, I watched a tear-jerking CNN Freedom project documentary on child labour Cobalt mines in Congo, numbers of child soldiers in South Sudan is still rising, there are hundreds and hundreds of children on Kampala streets, on the 12th April to mark the Street Child day, about 700 homeless street kids turned up for a march.

These children will grow up to be men and women that raise other generations.

Heinous unbelievable abuses against the children of Africa.

How is Africa supposed to move forward when a majority of the children don’t know what being treated with dignity is? Let us not forget that these are children that later become adults. Are we surprised about the lawlessness of those that we entrust with power? What are our priorities if we cannot invest in the continents greatest resource- the children of Africa? Why offer the innocence of children at the altar of incessant sexual and gluttonous desires?  Maybe it is time to stop lamenting and we take real action against individuals, states and governments that are not taking any action to protect the children of Africa.

There is a charter in place for this; The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child   recognises that the child occupies a unique and privileged position in the African society and for the full and harmonious development of their personality, the child should grow in an environment in an atmosphere of happiness love and understanding.

You can report to the African Human Rights Commission that sits in Addis Ababa.

Article 43 of the charter provides a reporting procedure or you can submit a communication to the committee as covered in article 44; The committee may receive communication from any person, group or non-governmental organisation,a recognised organisation of the African Union, by a member state, or the United Nations relating to any matter covered by the charter and Every communication to the committee shall contain the name and address of the author and shall be treated with confidence.

Once the committee has received this communication, they’ll proceed to do private investigations. If they find that the case is admissible, then they’ll take the matter to the African court and the government will be put to task to do something about the problem.

What makes a case admissible? You must ensure that your country has ratified the Charter, that all other local remedies have failed, there should be sufficient evidence that includes collect affidavits, documentary evidence, Audio Visual evidence media reports, research reports etc

Let us not forget, it takes a village to raise a child.

Scars of Womanhood in Sebei

Scars of Womanhood in Sebei

The road wanders through the lush green slopes of Mount Elgon.  The temperatures suddenly drop as the altitude gets higher and little evening drizzles fall lightly on the gorgeous peaks. Never had I seen that many waterfalls in the same place in my life.  If Hollywood ever wanted a paradise without setting it up, Sebei Region, Eastern Uganda the home of the Sabiny people is the place.

Picturesque as it is, this in the past was no home for an uncircumcised Sabiny girl. She would be ridiculed in the village. Her husband if she was lucky to get one, was mocked when he sat in the company of fellow men. It was believed that the uncircumcised woman could not get near a cow lest she causes it bad luck and it dies, that means she would not have milk and dung to paint her walls. She was a curse to the community.

Succumbing to the pressure at the well, in the field and at home, she would want to get circumcised so that she can fit in. She didn’t do it for her self, she did it for her community.

When the circumcision season approached and she had hit puberty, on the night before the circumcision, as the komek brewed, the girl and her age mates danced all night, watching for the night fade into morning, anxiously waiting to be women, to do this once and for all.

I saw other girls doing it. I had to do it too and avoid shame. You’ve been defeated if you run away, you were not a real woman if you screamed when the mutinde cut you with her knife.” Recalls 72-year-old Koko Yego of Kabei Village in Bukwo District.

The mentor counseled the girls, she told them that real women don’t cry after they’ve been cut. The mentor said that she protected them against the spirits that roamed during the circumcision season.

“Before the cutting day, I would protect the girls. Traditionally we believed that during the circumcision period, the spirt world was awake, that is when witches performed their witchery and it worked. I had to do my job, lest the girls die when they are cut, or are cursed with bareness. I would protect them that no stranger comes near them. I talked to the girls all night to endure the pain.” says 65-year-old Jennifer Cherop a former mentor that abandoned the trade when FGM was outlawed.

As morning dawned the girl and her peers were ready to meet the circumciser. The arena was set, the girls prepared, drums sounded as villagers gathered. It was time for celebration because girls were turning into women. It was her turn, she spread her legs, she could feel the the surgeon’s hands hold her clitoris and labia, she secretly clenched her teeth as the surgeon’s knife cut them off, blood gushed out, she saw her unwanted body parts thrown to the ground. The surgeons bloody knife would then go to cut the next girl and the next girl and the next girl as the villagers ululated at the spectacle, children and villagers giggling at the girl that flinched.

“It was my job to cut the girls, I started cutting girls when I was in my mid 20’s. I cannot tell how many girls I cut because they were very many. I did this until 5 years ago when people came to educate us about the dangers of female circumcision. After cutting the girls, most of them regretted immediately, others came years later asking me why I had done it. Some girls failed to heal until medical workers came to intervene. Thank God none died because I had cut them. But other circumcisers were not that lucky, I know many girls that died after they had been cut.  I knew that I was doing the right thing because I was fulfilling the demands of my culture.” Says 61-year-old Friska Yapkworei of Tukumo Binyiny sub-county Kween district.

The mentor would clean up the bloody arena, throwing the unwanted parts into a pit latrine. That latrine had to belong to the family of one of the circumcised girls to ensure that the parts are not used by witches. By the time the mid day sunshine cleared the misty mountains, the villagers would be drunk on the Komek brew, celebrating that their girls had become women.

She was now a woman in their eyes, she was now marriage material, she now afforded privileges of being a woman. For months she nursed the wounds in the care of her mentor that gave her herbs. Her husband would be confident when he went on expeditions in faraway lands that she would remain chaste, he would sit in the company of men and be respected. Yet, this woman would never know the pleasure of sex, she had been condemned to painful child births, she would go to her grave never knowing what it was to truly be a woman.

“The surgeon left, but the pain remained with me.” says 38-year old Elimo Scovia of Kabei Village in Bukwo district.

The European missionaries arrived on the slopes of Mount Elgon in the early 1900s to spread Christianity to the Sabiny people. The converts were ridiculed and the uncircumcised girl soon succumbed to the pressure from her community,

The Female Genital Mutilation Practice persisted.

The Rebel girls

In 1960, rebel girls arose – they refused to be cut. Among them was Jane Francis Kuka. She narrates her story.

“I told my mother that I didn’t want to be cut. My mother told me that my only hope was education. That if I could read hard and continue with school, I would survive. One day, I visited my grandmother but she and grandfather slept in separate rooms. I wondered why they were sleeping alone each. My grandmother told me that she could not endure the pain every time they made love. My grandmother told me, “My daughter if you keep scratching a scar you will feel terrible pain.” I worked very hard at school. I became a Grade 2 teacher, I upgraded until I became a tutor in a tertiary institution. I got married. I managed to convince my husband but the first real line of attack was my mother-in-law.  She was livid that her son had married an uncircumcised girl. I did all I could to befriend my mother-in-law- we later became friends and I was safe.”

Kuka had started a revolution that she could never imagine. More girls were refusing to be cut and in 1990, the District Resistance Council led by Peter Kamuron a Saul turned Paul, passed a decree that it was mandatory for all women and girls above 13 years to be cut. In 1992, Kuka along with all the rebel girls was being hunted by the elders who wanted to forcefully cut them. She hastily took off to Kampala where she met with Joyce Mpanga, the then Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development. Mrs. Mpanga took the case directly to the president, who gave her a helicopter back to Kapchorwa where she met the Resistance Council leaders. The minister ordered that the decree is nullified. This was a victory for Ms. Kuka but it made her grossly unpopular among the elders and the populace. She stood for office three times and lost the race every time. She started fighting from the sidelines with the women’s movement, the church, civil society, and development partners until 2010 when the Female Genital Mutilation Act was enacted.

The FGM practice has since gone underground – some women are cut at childbirth, where their husbands and community assume they are nursing birth wounds. Some girls are sneaked into neighboring Pokot to be cut. The cutters have no safe haven because Kenya too doesn’t tolerate FGM.

Now that the practice is underground is one of the reasons UNFPA Uganda, religious institutions, the Ministry of Gender conducts an annual marathon in Sebei region. What the heck does a marathon have to do with female genital mutilation? Some people have asked. Here is why: The Sabiny are amazing athletes, in fact, many young Sabiny girls and boys aspire to be runners. They love the sport and they are good at it. World gold medalists Moses Kipsiro, Jacob Kiplimo, Stephen Kiprotich, silver medalist Joshua Cheptegei are all from Sebei region. Youngsters watching their role models running to end FGM creates a huge impact.

“The impact of the event is striking, it helps raise curiosity among the community why all these famous runners, and people of different races are running in their communities. For instance, 2016, was a cutting year, but we never heard of any case being reported. The practice has gone clandestine,” says the Chief Administrative Officer of Bukwo district.

Despite the fact that no case of FGM has been reported in all the three districts of Sebei Region; Bukwo, Kween, and Kapchorwa in the past year, the sensitization has to go on. To change attitudes completely so that the girls can know that their bodies belong to them and not to the community and to make Female Genital Mutilation a thing of the past.

 

 

 

 

Prison was my place of redemption

Prison was my place of redemption

Gloria Acan Photo credit Advance Afrika

Gloria Acan gazed at the prison cell wall wondering when this ordeal would be over. She remembered the sound of the magistrate’s hammer when he sentenced her to six months in prison. She had appeared in court three times before. She had prayed that the magistrate would have mercy on her and allow her to take care of her three children. Now, she was certain that everybody was right about her being a pathetic mother.

Her life had been like a free fall; the magistrate’s hammer was rock bottom – She dropped out of school at senior 4, a marriage gone sour at 20, here she was at 22 in jail.

“When I was four months pregnant with my second child, he went on a ‘work trip’ and never returned. He had told me that he could never take me to his parents’ home because they could never accept an Acholi girl.”

For a girl in her village, if she hadn’t completed school, a man with some property was her way out. A year later, she met a man of her own tribe that seemed to love her and her two children.

“He owned land, he introduced me to his family and he wasn’t embarrassed to have me like the first Munyakole man that had disappeared.” She said.

This love affair soon came to an end when the man started to drink alcohol.

“My husband was drinking all the time, and every time he drunk, he beat me. One day, we were attending his relative’s funeral when he started to beat me up in front of mourners. It is like he enjoyed humiliating me. People came running towards us and pulled him away from me. Those that witnessed the scene at the funeral cautioned me that he was going to kill me if I didn’t leave him.” She said.

She left him.

“Life was hard when I left him. Our child was five months old.” She said

After what seemed like series of endlessly failed business ventures, she decided to take her last child who was eight months then to his father. His father, in turn, took the child to St Jude a foster home in Gulu town. Before St Jude takes on a child, they inform the police. The police started to investigate and ended up jailing Acan for child abandonment.

Close to three months into her time in prison, the prison warden came with an announcement. A civil society organization called Advance Afrika was conducting a rehabilitation and economic empowerment of inmates and ex-inmates in Northern Uganda to prepare them for life after prison.

“I must have been the first one to apply.” She said. “I prayed day and night that I would be selected for the training program. My gut told me that this might be an opportunity for a second chance in life.”

The organization conducted an interview, where she mentioned that she was interested in studying business skills. After a few weeks, they came back to announce the participants. She had been selected.

“I was excited. It never occurred to me that prison would be my place of redemption – the skills that they taught me I could never have learned from anywhere else. I paid all the attention that I could afford to the teachers that were teaching us.”

In May this year, she was released.

“On May 23rd, a social worker from Advance Afrika gave me a bale of second-hand clothes as start up kit. The first time I went to the market, my sales were 150,000 Ugx. Everything has turned around for me.” She smiled. “My children are in school. I got my son back, from St Jude. I can afford to pay rent. I hope to purchase land soon and build a home for my children. I am not in a hurry to get married again because I want to go back to school. I am not the same woman that walked into that prison cell.”