I was 14. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided my village demanding virgins. In a horrific escape, I endured a treacherous journey that ended in an internally displaced people’s camp. Other girls were not lucky, so was my grandfather. He was 100. Unable to run, he climbed a mango tree and fell to the feet of the rebels. They mocked him and left him for dead. Discovered later in excruciating pain, he was confined to a wheel chair and later died of his injuries.
What become our internally displaced people’s camp was an open large field at a catholic mission. There were no tents. A site of activity and emotions. Parents looking for missing children, others attending to crying and hungry children. Those with some food, collected firewood and cooked in open fires. Several slept on bare ground amidst the smoke.
Amidst scarcity however, I witnessed kindness. People shared the little food they had and comforted those who had lost loved ones or whose children were missing. The catholic nuns were gracious and kind. They offered us some supplies. Food, water and medicine.
What kept me going in displacement? I was alive. Other girls were taken as sex slaves. Many remained uncounted for. I was grateful to be alive. And even in displacement, opportunities presented themselves. Whenever something dropped in the forest close by, children raced. Birds accidentally dropped fish as they fed their chicks. That was how we got our proteins- all I had to do was run, get to the fish before the rest. I was an athlete and a valuable asset to my family.
Fleeing the LRA and experiencing life in displacement informed my career choices. I joined Uganda’s immigration service in 1996, and while working at the Busia Uganda-Kenya border, I caused the arrest of one of the LRA’s notorious commanders as he was attempting to flee the country. He was known for killing, cooking and feeding villagers on human flesh. I subsequently rescued girls the LRA had trafficked as sex slaves, including some of LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony’s “wives”.
These successes led me to meet Uganda’s Minister of Internal Affairs. There, I advocated for sustainable training programs for immigration officers in order to counter transnational organized crimes, including human trafficking.
I am the founder of the Dream Revival Center, which is a residential facility for survivors of trafficking. I was motivated to build the center after years of housing survivors in my own home.
In 2011 I made a personal commitment of action at the Clinton Global Initiative to counter human trafficking, assist former child soldiers, and train 1000 law enforcement officers. Since then I have trained over 2000 law enforcement officers to counter trafficking. I founded the Huts For Peace program, which is a self-help initiative by displaced female survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence by the LRA. Using locally available materials the women have so far constructed huts to house over 25 extended families and 120 children in their care.
Fleeing the LRA, Losing a home and displaced at 14, I saw firsthand what it meant to feel unsafe. As a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow, I write and speak globally about human trafficking. I advocate for survivors and rally global action.
Utilizing our talents, we all can do something to prevent human trafficking, protect victims and prosecute offenders. Traffickers are afraid when we unite in action.