The individual’s name has been changed and her photo is omitted to protect her privacy.
Four years ago, Francine could have never imagined she’d be speaking on International Women’s Day in front of a crowd of hundreds.
In 2008, Francine lay in a coma in a hospital in Nairobi. Doctors rushed to repair a severe fistula wound while Francine fought to stay alive.
At the age of 11, Francine had been abducted from her home in Northern Uganda and forced to become the wife of an LRA commander. After suffering severe complications from pregnancy in an LRA camp in Democratic Republic of Congo, Francine was airlifted for medical treatment in Kenya.
Francine’s story is one of remarkable wisdom, determination, and service. Knowing that medical care was inferior in her home country, she hid her passport in her Kenyan hospital room so that she could remain in the country until fully recovering from her surgical operation.
Reunited with her family back in Uganda, Francine was determined to return to school. After eight transformative years living in the bush where she was forced to give up her childhood for all the duties of a wife, Francine was too old to attend a normal secondary school. At 19, she walked through the gates of Pader Girls Academy for the first time, where she would spend three years catching up on the education she missed.
Francine was a natural leader. Out of 300 students, she was chosen by her peers to lead the girls as Head Girl of the Academy, serving as the primary representative of student interests at the school. With persistent study, she also excelled academically, earning one of the top scores in the District on the country’s academic assessment exams.
Francine’s success was remarkable, and she never took for granted the opportunity she had been given, nor did she forget the thousands of other girls who returned from captivity without access to education. In 2010, Francine traveled to the United Kingdom to speak to the House of Lords as a representative of all of the girls in Uganda suffering as a result of the war.
For her outstanding performance at the Academy, Francine was one of five girls in her class awarded a scholarship for advanced study in Uganda’s capital. For the first time this week, Francine dressed in a new school uniform as she entered A-level (equivalent to 12th grade/1st year of university in the U.S. system), an achievement of a small and proud minority of Ugandans.
Today, I sat beside this outstanding young woman as she prepared to speak at Uganda’s National Women’s Day Celebration in Kampala. Out of all of the charity’s focused on women’s issues in Uganda, the Pader Girls Academy was chosen as the sole beneficiary of the event’s fundraising activities this year. Beneath a banner that read, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” the theme of Women’s Day 2012, Francine shared her future goal, to become a human rights lawyer and advocate for other girls affected by war.
Amidst an environment that often seems absent of hope, Francine's future is inspiring. With educated women leaders like Francine—strong, determined, wise, and dedicated to serving others—communities really can change, individual lives can change, and the persistence of violence can change.
Happy Women's Day to women everywhere!
A trailer for a new documentary on providing education to war-affected girls.