Jennifer, Milly, Nighty, Sarah and Maurine were led into the studio for our interview looking bewildered and barely uttering hello. Perhaps it was the lights, the cameras, the attention. They aren't used to any of it. This is their first trip to New York and they have only been here for 36 hours. The five are from Uganda and have been flown to the U.S. by Glamour Magazine. More on that in a bit, first some details on who they are ...
These women are all former child soldiers and survivors of civil war in Uganda. The two-decade conflict between the government and the LRA militia has caused no shortage of pain and loss. Among the casualties -- roughly 25,000 children who have been abducted and forced to act as soldiers for the rebels. Maurine was 16 when she was taken from her home in the middle of the night. She was forced to fight the war her captors had chosen. An estimated that one third of the child soldiers were girls. Many became sex slaves to militiamen. Anyone caught trying to escape was paraded in front of others as examples and killed.
Those who did manage to escape were often rejected by their families and their villages. Maurine told us the survivors are thought to be cursed; She said told she was not even allowed to draw water from the village well because people were so afraid of her.
Rather than let the rejection control her, Maurine found help in a group of women and a small non-profit called Empowering Hands. Empowering Hands was formed on a simple concept: When people talk and share mutual experiences, they heal. The people who have seen the worst of humanity need help finding hope again. Through counseling and small grants, the women of Empowering Hands have helped nearly 1,000 former child soldiers. Their resources are basic. Meetings often take place under a tree.
So, why New York and why Glamour? Glamour has awarded Empowering Hands the Women of the Year award and a grant that will help them purchase some of the basics they need. As they work to heal lives one person at a time, the women of Empowering Hands have come with a message to all of us. "The world should also come out and help Uganda as a country," she says, "because we also need peace."
-- By Amanda Townsend, 360 Producer