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Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Shelter’

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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