Ugandan women are some of the strongest women I have ever met (I mean this both literally and figuratively). These women carry Jerry cans (20L old petrol containers) filled with water on their heads multiple times per day (let me tell you, I tried to carry one and it is no easy task). Ugandan mothers raise many children, clean their homes and make sure their children have enough food to eat. They farm subsistence crops, maintain local shops, hold professional jobs and don’t stop moving until the sun goes down.
Their strength is particularly remarkable when you consider the circumstances many of these women have had to overcome. Matt and I observed this most recently when we went to Gulu to visit an organization called Child Voice (you can check out some photos of our experience below).
A quick history about Gulu and northern Uganda: until roughly a few years ago, a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ravaged the area. You may be familiar with the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, and the global movements to find, capture, expose and stop him (e.g. Kony 2012). While Joseph Kony was (unofficially) in power, however, he terrorized many, many innocent civilians and committed numerous unspeakable crimes. He was perhaps most notorious for the disgusting ways in which he would kidnap women and children and indoctrinate them into his army.
Kony and the LRA have largely moved out of the north and, today, Gulu and the surrounding villages remain relatively peaceful areas of Uganda. But the legacy of war is a brutal one and the consequences from decades of violence still linger. And, as is the case with many post-conflict communities, women have remained significantly marginalized.
Child Voice therefore began as a way to address issues of lingering violence and restore voices to the most vulnerable of women in northern Uganda. Specifically, Child Voice works with former girl child soldiers (they have recently expanded to include refugees from South Sudan as well) and provides them with “therapeutic communities and community development projects that rebuild infrastructure destroyed by war.” Many of their development projects involve counseling, vocational training, remedial education classes and small, entrepreneurial ventures.
Matt and I were fortunate enough to meet the female students of Child Voice and tour the Lukome center, where these women live with their children. Many of them were my age or younger and had at least one child. Many of them had been victims of senseless violence. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) or current conflict in South Sudan had affected all of their lives in some way.
Yet, I watched as these women cared for their babies, danced, attended classes and chapel, laughed loudly and joked around with their friends.
They had achieved a special brand of resilience through the comprehensive and peaceful Lukome center—they were simultaneously devoted mothers, determined workers, and crazy, ridiculous teenagers.
They had transformed the remnants of war and terror into something exquisitely normal-something strong. And it was beautiful to see..
To check out more about Child Voice visit their website: childvoiceintl.org