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Posts Tagged ‘Uganda’

Hellen is a simple, calm and soft-spoken woman with a big heart for helping women and children. She has done what is in her reach to support them  and make their lives better and more meaningful. I met Helen Alyek during a meeting for Women Taskforce Members for  a gender responsive Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for North and North Eastern Uganda in Kampala in April, 2012 organised by Isis-WICCE.  Hellen is  from Lira district and she is a retired Superintendent of  Uganda Police Force where she served  for over 25years and established the Child and Family Protection Unit. Hellen is also the founder and the Director of Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Shelter (LIRWOCDI).

During her  career in the Ugandan Police Force Hellen   worked in various sections  such as  Traffic, Police 99 Patrol, Interpol Narcotics Drugs, Criminal Investigations,  Juvenile Court  (as a court prosecutor), and later as an Administrator at the Police  Headquarter  in Kampala.

As a court prosecutor in the Juvenile courts, Hellen used to receive many complaints from young offenders between the ages of 12-14 years that they were mistreated and harassed by the adult suspects in the cells.

In order to offer protection to the children suspects, Hellen  risked herself and  kept  the children   in her house in the police barracks, feed them and  bought clothes for them. Unfortunately, the young criminals did not spare her, they would steal her property and run away and she never gave up.

It was the frustrations from the young offenders that Hellen an hatched the idea of establishing special   units for children at police stations where they can be protected. She shared the  idea with the  then Inspector General of Police and the then  Chief Advisor  for Police from Scotland Yard who also supported her idea.

In 1995 Helen started the new unit, called the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU) in the Uganda Police Force.  The unit started handling cases of violence against women and children in the police barracks and nearby community and there were many cases to handle

The Unit also raised community awareness about the rights of women and children, and taught crime prevention tips to children in nearby schools.  With time the CFPU became so popular so the need for expansion.

Hellen approached UNICEF for support to the unit and she got funding for  training of the first 120  police women and men.  These officers were trained in human rights, counseling, investigation, the protection of women and children, as well as interview techniques for young survivors and suspects.

After the training, they were posted to police stations all over Uganda to handle cases of violence against women/children and were made aware of the importance of separating young offenders from the adult suspects while in custody. UNICEF further supported the unit with a motor vehicle to oversee the work of police officers within the CFPU countrywide, 20 bicycles and 120 motorcycles for officers to use in the field.

With the support of UNICEF and other donors, separate rooms for young offenders  within five police stations were constructed in  Masaka Police Station in Southern Uganda, Gulu in Northern Uganda, Kumi in Eastern Uganda and the Central Police Station in Central Kampala, which  were registering the highest crime rates committed by children.

As a result of this initiative in the Uganda Police, Hellen received the International Scholarship Award in 1997 by the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) in Dallas, Texas as the first Woman Police Officer in Africa to be recognized. In that same year she was also awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Inspector  General of the Uganda Police Force as Police Woman of the Year.

“I am proud to say that the unit that I started with one table and two chairs is now wide spread in all police stations in Uganda, with officers skilled in handling cases of violence against women and children”. Hellen added

The birth of Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Shelter (LIRWOCDI)

When Hellen was doing her supervisory role in the police force, she visited several IDP camps in Northen Uganda where she met over 50 female survivors of sexual abuse who shared with her their   moving, sad stories. The stories touched her heart and inspired her  to find a solution.  Hellen also saw many orphans in the camps who had lost their parents due to armed conflict or HIV and AIDS and they had nowhere to call home. Due to sexual abuse and exploitation of female orphans, aged 12–15 years, many became young mothers and she felt that the best way to protect these women and children was to build a shelter where survivors of abuse could take refugee and nurse their injuries.

“By the time I retired from the Uganda Police Force in 2003, I had already established a shelter  and registered it  with the Lira Non Governmental Organization (NGO) Board  and the Local Lira Government.  I also contacted the International Association of Women Police for support to construct a permanent building for the Shelter with a perimeter wall. In the same year, the shelter received fifty female survivors of abuse. This is the first ever shelter of its kind in Lira District – Northern Uganda. Hellen recalls.

Since 2003 more than four thousand women and child survivors of abuse have passed through this Shelter. With support of UN Women and Children’s Fund the shelter also has been able to repair 40 serious cases of Fistula and the youngest survivor was four years who was raped by a neighbor. The shelter also provided medical treatment to over 60 young mothers who were sexually abused.

The majority of women and girls who are received at the shelter for protection are female survivors of: domestic violence, sexual abuse, force marriage, child labor, orphans, rescued children from traffickers, potential victims (girl child) of Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM) and  Fistula

As part of raising awareness on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in the community and the duty bearers, Hellen spear headed the first ever Town Hall meeting in Lira town where district officials and community members    discussed issues of SGBV. The main objective of the meeting was to make the district officials aware of injustice women survivors of abuse face when they are not able to pay the Police Surgeon’s fee and to devise means of  protecting women and children from violence and abuse.

Despite the achievements, the shelter still faces some challenges as it mainly run on donations from well wishers. According to Hellen, the most pressing needs of the shelter are school fees  for orphans to go to school, feeding and clothing, medical care, skills training for young mothers, and a vehicle to ease the movement among others.

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ImageThe month of March is internationally known as the women’s month, a month that is supposed to be a time for reflection and celebrating what has been achieved in advancing women’s rights worldwide. To the surprise of the women in Uganda, March 2012 has been a month of mourning.

Women of Uganda have seen the betrayal of the state that is supposed to protect their rights. Two cases have been in the spotlight.

In 1997, Sharma Kooky, a Uganda of Indian decent tortured and brutally killed his wife by electrocuting her. After the murder Kooky hasted to cremate the body to hide evidence but was stopped by authorities. Women activists also rose up in arms and ensured that justice was done at the time – in 2000. The High Court convicted Kooky of the murder and was sentenced to death. Twelve years down the road, the Uganda Women Movement is shocked at Kooky receiving Presidential pardon on humanitarian grounds and he is now a free man. According to the Constitution of Uganda under article 121 through the advisory committee on the prerogative of mercy, the president is mandated to exercise his rights to release prisoners. Unfortunately the decision of the State cannot be questioned!

ImageMiria Matembe, former minister of Ethic and Integrity and renounced women rights activist  said that  the women of Uganda were pained by the marginalization of the justice system. She recalled the efforts of  the  women activists in 1997 that led to the sentencing of Kooky and how all that has been trashed by the president.

In the same month, women were also shocked by the sentence given to Turkish man, Emmin Baro  who subjected 50 Ugandan young girls to oral sex and recorded them on videos. He was initially charged with child pornography and given a light sentence in form of 6 million shillings fine

But the women movement were vocal on  Baro’s sentence as they were on Kooky’s presidential pardon. They also expressed fear that such acts would escalate violence against women and children in the country.

“If the state can’t protect the vulnerable and marginalized groups, who will do that. This is a clear manifestation of failure of the state to protect women and children from sexual and gender based violence,” said one of the women activists during the press conference.

The women expressed their disappointment with the magistrate for the linient sentence given to Emmin Baro  and are embarrassed that it was done by a female magistrate. The magistrate did not act as  a human being, she acted like a machine. Matembe noted.

The Chief Magistrate at Nakawa court has now referred the case to the high Court after protests.

The defilement Act of Uganda clearly states that any sexual activity with children amounts to defilement, which is a capital offence and is punishable by death. These two scenarios are a slap in the face of justice.

The women are also questioning the government commitment to prevent and stop sexual and gender based violence. In December 2011, during the International Conference on Great lakes region, the government signed a declaration to fully domesticate and implement the protocol on prevention and suppression of sexual violence against women and children in the Great lakes region.

The women are now calling for though investigation and prosecution of Emmin Baro for each child abused. They are also calling for psychosocial and trauma counseling for the abused children, operationalisation of the domestic violence acts of 2010, enactment of sexual offences bill. They are also demanding for transparency of the presidential pardon of Kooky and investigation of the entire justice and law system.

The women’s movement is also considering the avenues of seeking audience with the respective judicial officers including the chief justice to ensure that justice is delivered.

Meanwhile, a day of mourning for Josh Renu who was murdered by her husband Kooky with impunity will be communicated.

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This week, a 30 minute Video by the Invisible Children, a nonprofit organization based in USA with a campaign message “Stop Kony2012” appeared on the internet.  The video’s premise is that people in America – and the world beyond have the power to stop Kony  by raising support for his capture.  In this controversial film, the maker introduces a young boy from Acholi called Jacob whom he  says  “I first met this boy  in Uganda, Central African Republic and  he was running for his life”. This shows  ignorance in this film. The film has since generated a heated debate in the cyber space especially  twitter and facebook. The KONY2012 campaign video has been viewed over 32 million online   and the topics #StopKony and #KONY2012 are trending on twitter.

According to Rosebell Kagumire, the communications  officer at Isis-WICCE and a prominent blogger  the   video  simplifies the story of millions of people in Northern Uganda and makes out a narrative that is often heard about Africa – about how hopeless people are in terms of conflict and that  only people off this continent can help.Yet this is not  entirely true: there are have been  local initiatives to end this war people like Betty Bigombe  who went into the bush to try and convince Kony to come out of the bush.

The film  also   shows the situation in Northern Uganda eight  years back which is contrary to the current situation.  Since then, many things have changed; people  are now back to their  homes, children are going to school and several economic activities are taking place at the same time  peace building and post conflict recovery processes are  also going on.

Another Ugandan blogger Ssozi Javie commented that   “if you don’t speak for yourself, someone will speak for you”. This is exactly what Jason Russell, the founder of the Invisible Children is doing – speaking for a bunch of voiceless Ugandans”.

It is also reported that  the filmmaker  talked to nearly every person  he  could  in Washington as an attempt to get the United States to stop Kony, which was responded to in October 2011 by President Obama who sent a group of 100 specially trained military soldiers to Uganda to find Kony who has been hiding in the jungle.

The movement, dubbed Kony 2012, is set to attract the top 20 celebrities and the top 12 individuals in politics, as Russell views them as “a crucial aspect to spreading the word and getting the world involved.” It is again reported that the video was mentioned by White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday during his briefing.

The website, Kony2012.com was created by the Invisible Children to sell t-shirts, bracelets, and posters to raise the awareness of Kony and make him a household name in the United States. Russell states that funds are used in Uganda to create schools and other buildings for children as well as promote the campaign and provide resources for tracking down and arresting Kony.

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Last year in October, I was privileged to coordinate the intercultural visit of 10 Dutch women (as they preferred to be called so) who came to Uganda to interact with fellow women  in Lwangosia, Namayingo District. Offcourse this came with its own challenges of  hosting big number of ‘Bazungu’ white people  in a typical village setting with no electricity, no running water and no proper accommodation  which called for serious preparations  to make sure that the visitors  feel at home and comfortable.    To the hosts in Namayingo, there was a lot of excitement, anxiety and high expectations from the Bazungu because this was their first time to host them. them. We held a lot of planning meetings to come up with interesting activities and site visits which included visiting the widows and orphans, schools, health centres and prisons in Namayingo district and Sigulu Islands in Lake Victoria. The first visit was to the widows in Bukhemba village which is 45 minutes drive from the place where we were staying.

As part of the gifts to the widows, each widow was given a matress and a blanket. We left when they were all smiling and the fact that a “muzungu” visited their homes was good enough to give them joy and happiness and restored their hope that someone out there is concerned about  their plight.

The visit to the Islands on Lake Victoria

Arrival in Sigulu Islands

Another exciting and almost tragic trip was the journey to Sigulu Islands. We left Lwangosia in the morning at 10:00am looking forward to a boat ride to the islands. To me , I thought we were going to use a modern boat. To my surprise, when we reached at the landing site which is about 30 minutes drive from Lwangosia I asked Rev Simon Peter Ongango who had arranged for the boat that where is the boat, he pointed at a wooden canoe boat, my heart jumped but I kept quiet since every body seemed comfortable with it including the Dutch women.  At the site, we managed to get 9 life jackets for a group of over 20 people and we were not bothered with them.

We set  off  for Sigulu at around 11:00am and the journey was so smooth and within an hour or less, we were  already in Sigulu. We were received well by the local leaders  and the natives there who were also excited to see the Bazungu and their expectation too were very high. The chairman LC1 gave a speech where he mentioned  problems  faced by the islanders  which was mainly lack of services like health, education and high prevalence of HIV and AIDs as well as  violence against women.

In sigulu, they  wanted us to visit a  widow  who was  a few kilometers  away from the centre where we were received and this  was not on the original plan. At the same time we were warned that we have to leave the Islands well in time because in the evening the lake gets rough.

As a leader and Coordinator of the group, I had to take a decision and we concluded our journey without visiting the widow because it was not in our original plan. We set off from Sigulu at around 3;00pm. We had carried some snacks which we ate on our way back. After we  had moved for  over 45 minutes just  in the middle of the journey on the lake, the boat engine went silent. At first the boat owners  tried to  re-start  it and  it failed. We thought it was just a temporal problem only to find out that the engine failed completely.

All of a sudden the boat started swinging from one position to another and it started moving on the free flow of the waves. Our hearts jumped. Remember we did not have life jackets and  we were right in the middle of the lake. I knew I was going to meet my creator there and then. Everybody on the boat trembled. I could see fear in the eyes of the Dutch women. This was my first greatest scare I have ever encountered in  life.Fear swallowed me and I immediately I started thinking about my eight months baby and my two year old son and how life will be without my presence.

We were stuck on the lake for an hour. Thanks to the advances in new ICTs especially the mobile phone communication. Amidst this crisis, we were able to make telephone calls to the owner of the boat and a rescue boat was sent with another engine which was fixed and that’s how we managed to get out of the lake. Otherwise we would have made the news for the day with the Dutch women on board.

After we had reached Lwangosia, many questions kept coming in my mind; what If we had left Sigulu Island late in the evening and we were stuck in the lake at night? What if there was no mobile telephone communication, what were we going to do? How many people die on the lake die in the same circumstances like we have been in? Only God Knows.

Our next  field trip visit was in Lubango primary school, a place known to have crocodile  orphans and widows and a hard  to reach area with  poor road network.  We had to walk  for  three kilometres or more because the car could not reach the school where we were going. In Lubango we were warmly received by the Mothers Union and the school administration. Mothers union  taught the visitors how  who to make mats out of papyrus  and beads out of paper. The Dutch women carried small gifts which included scholastic materials and mattresses and blankets for the widows.

Prisoners sitting outside the cell

The last visit was the Uganda Prisons, Namayingo where we found horrible conditions of prisoners. There was one small cell that accommodated over 20 male inmates and it was filthy. When we asked about women’s section were shown another tiny room which formerly a kitchen and it had no inmates and we were told that there was no female inamtes by the time we visited

All in all the change visit was very exciting and at the same time a shock and an eye opener to the Dutch women as most of them could not imagine how people manage to  survive especially such conditions especially the widows, orphans and prisoners.

Nevertheless, they appreciated the beauty of our country and the climate  and urged the Ugandan women to work hard and utilise the resources that God gave us. We hope this relationship will be maintained and  we hope to see more visits and collaboration.

Jesca at the widows’ home in Lubango

Two of the widows we met in Lubango

Orphans we met the the widows’ home

Below are a few shots from the visit

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