I was born and raised in a village where culture dictates the place of a girl or a woman. I have always stood tall and strong, to talk about rape, abuse and female genital mutilation truly knowing that I am risking it all. But I have to differ the odds and speak for the voiceless. I am proud for the human I have become.
Born on the 28th of July in 1984 to Mrs. Waiswa & Late Waiswa Bernard in a remote Village of Bukyerimba Namisambya Kamuli District, this is a community which offers few opportunities especially for the Women and girls. Since the nearest hospital is in 18miles, I was delivered in the absence of any qualified midwife or aiding nurse, my mother and I cheated death, were likely to be counted on the grotesque maternal and infant mortality death. As if a culture but yet not, every girl aged 14yrs is looked at as long overdue for marriage. Parents are looking at making a “killing” from bride-price paid to them would –be hubby or the parents of the boy. I grew up witnessing countless Child-marriages every weekend. I lived in a culture where a man can marry upto 20 wives to provide labor on his farmland. Yes, women were enslaved then and are still enslaved upto. Something has to be done to break this vindictive cycle. Someone has to stand up and say enough is enough!!
Polygamy has never been so far way from anybody born in Busoga Sub Region; it’s never in the backyard but just fronted in your face. My own father was a proud prince “wana-be” he had 8 wives and many mistresses. He fathered over 20 Children, though disease, poverty and poor feeding claimed some of them. As of today, I have 18 known siblings. My own mom gave birth to 10 Children, but only 7 of us are survived. Though my mother married dad when she was so young, she believed in the values of education, and she put up a dependable force to resist our father from marrying me off at a tender age. She did all she could do to make sure I attain a good education, yes she sacrificed a lot, stood the beating, abuse and rejection but she insisted I should finish my education and make my own choices. I loved and admired school from childhood; I guess that’s why I hanged on as well. I started school at the age of 5yrs and I have to walk bare foot to Kamuli Township which is 10miles away from our home here in Bukyerimba. One day I will write about this in a book “The unforgiving walk to School” How I survived, I really don’t know but I was kept alive maybe for this cardinal purpose at Rape Hurts Foundation. Despite the odds and challenges I know Rape Hurts Foundation is doing a pretty awesome job.
Am the 1st female graduate with a bachelors from a University (Makerere University Kampala - the most prestigious University in East Africa) in our Village, surprisingly when I graduate the entire village celebrated, the celebration went on for a whole week. I became a hero overnight and the villagers turned up in big numbers to touch my graduation gown. The village and the whole district has put a lot of hopes in me. I can’t say I have achieved a lot for them but little by little, by encouraging more young people to stay in school, openly speaking about things like rape and domestic gender based violence, advocating and lobbying …I can see there is some change.
Though a lot has to been done, 99.9% of all the households here depend on oil lamps for lighting at night, they use open stove/cooking stones to make their meals, over 85% of the youths don’t have any skill in life (apart from eating and causing pregnancy as if that’s a skill) women and girls are still kept in an inferior position and some men still look at them as sex toys, there is only one school (RHF – Community School), there is no access to Safe Clean water (the only well we have at RHF can’t serve the entire community) it should be noted that national grid-power lines are in 5KMs but still the locals can’t afford paying the hydro power bills, still the nearest health center is now in 10Km but not easily accessible because of lack of transport. Every year in and out, famine strikes killing people, there isn’t food security. The list of problems and challenges faced by the local people is endless.
I willingly share my story of the events which led me to this full-time commitment. I am a rape victim and survivor, born and raised in a polygamous family of rural poor villages of Kamuli. Fetching water is a primary cultural role of girls and women there. In most cases, open water wells are at a distance of 2-5miles. Most girls come back from school late in the evenings since they have to walk from the schools which are always a long distance away. On arrival home they are sent to go and fetch water.
This is how I met my ugly fate. I was raped by the very people who were supposed to protect me while coming from a water-well in the dark night at the age of 11. Here the culture protects the rapist, and I was blamed instead. I never got any justice. Update: my rapist behaves as if nothing happened, it hurts. But I have been able to replace hate with love. In my village, women and girls suffer all forms of rape; ritual rape, cultural rape, marriage rape, forced marriage and child marriages. This reality compels me towards advocacy and change. I am among the few lucky ones because I attained a bachelor’s degree at Makerere University Kampala from my Bukyerimba Kamuli village. This was a wake-up call for me to use my unfortunate past for the betterment of the girls & women in this sub-region. I came out and spoke about my experiences and became a voice for the voiceless. Over the years, I have connected rape to poverty, water, food, human rights, awareness, light, violence and gender inequality. I know RAPE HURTS.
Hellen W. Lunkuse
Rape Hurts Foundation www.rapehurts.org