KAMPALA, Uganda — For nearly two decades Northern Uganda was terrorized by a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA was extremely brutal and cruel committing abductions, rapes and murders of civilians, mainly targeted young children and adults. The LRA took young girls as sex slaves for commanders and leaders in the army, which created thousands of young, war-stricken mothers and war-born babies. Throughout the LRA’s dominion, its members abducted 67,000 youth. Although this war ended in 2007, the people, specifically the mothers and children, are still suffering to recover from the horrific living conditions during that time.
To this day, there are thousands of mothers and children in Northern Uganda still suffering from the horrible situations the LRA forced them into. The LRA kidnapped girls at a very young age and forced them to be child soldiers or wives to its soldiers. As a result of the LRA’s sexual violence towards them, the girls bore many children while still being children themselves.
For those lucky enough to escape, they were unable to provide for themselves or their children. Because the girls lost their childhoods, education and families so young, they had no means to support themselves, let alone their children. This involuntary position at such a young age also proves to be a significant factor in the poverty of young children and families in Uganda. This heartbreaking reality lead to the creation of an organization with the purpose of giving these war-stricken mothers hope and a way to provide for their families.
In 2014, Jolly Okot made a commitment to support these mothers and created the organization, Women Empowerment Network Design or WEND. WEND is a nonprofit organizations that helps mothers affected by the war in Uganda to find employment, receive an education and become empowered. WEND aims to improve the quality of life for women in Northern Uganda and their families.
WEND survives off the sales of products made by women in Gulu, Uganda. The organization provides these women with advanced training in tailoring and finance so they can produce high-quality bags for sale in the United States. WEND pays the women a monthly salary to create these products. Through these sales, the women are able to have economic stability for their families as well as pay for their children’s school.
WEND is creating better lives for both the war-stricken mothers and their children. WEND has team members in the United States advocating for it and its bag sales in order to spread its mission and continue to help mothers and children of Uganda. WEND is dedicated to improving the lives of the women in children deeply affected by the war.
Inspiring Women In and Outside of Uganda
WEND allows inspired people to join in on vision trips to empower the women in the communities where it works. The trips are taken to Gulu, Uganda where WEND is based. After a recent trip with WEND, Francesca Calleo wrote, “Very few words can accurately describe the 12 days spent in Gulu, Uganda. Simply put, I am forever humbled by the women at WEND and I honor their strength, beauty and resilience.” WEND has been able to improve a significant number of lives and living situations in Northern Uganda through its work with war-stricken mothers.
With continued support and funding, the organization will be able to carry on its mission and proceed with the work it is doing. “Working at WEND has given me the peace, stability and security I need and provides me with a safe and loving community,” says Grace, a woman who was only 13 when the LRA abducted her. Like Grace, there are several other women who are able to have a life for themselves and their children through the work of WEND. To purchase a bag or learn more about the current women of WEND visit the WEND Africa website.
– Savannah Huls