“Education Is the Way”

Our Uganda-based mentor Hellen Lunkuse, who has survived rape at the age of 11, shares why her mother was her mentor, as 'a heroine with a will of a lion and a heart of gold'.

Q: What part of the world do you live in and what is the thing that you love the most about it - and the thing that you would correct if you could?

A: I was born and raised in Bukyerimba Village, Kamuli District in Busoga Eastern Uganda, at the age of 11. Something happened in my life and because of the challenges my mother was facing with my father, we moved to Jinja township about 60KM from my village of birth. I still say that I live in Jinja and Kamuli, because I work in Kamuli full time.

Busoga Eastern Uganda is a beautiful rural countryside, evergreen and gifted by nature. The longest river in the world, flows right “next door” from Lake Victoria, on it’s way to Egypt. We have a fair dose of the sunshine throughout the year. The two rainy seasons gives us plenty of time to plant and grow our food. We are purely organic!!!! We are so religious yet very cultured, social networks are still very strong, family bonds make a lot of sense to us.

Amidst all these beauty and love, culturally aspects come back to haunt us while dragging us back to stone age era. Women and girls are still in an inferior position, whereas 76% of all the locals can’t read or write, it’s worse among the Women and girls, where 81.9% are illiterate. Girls are still forced into early childhood marriages, men especially the youths can go way with rape and justice never served. Women and girls are not in charge of their bodies, it’s the husband or boyfriend who makes the decision. It’s not surprising at all that women and girls are still sold off in bride price and dowry arrangements. Those are some of the things I really wish to change in my lifetime.

Q: What industry are you in, and why did you pick to do what you do?

A: I am in the industry of Non–Profit, Non-Government & Civil Society Organisation. I am the founder and operator of Rape Hurts Foundation www.rapehurts.org. 

I chose this kind of industry because of my story. At the age of 11yrs, I was raped, and my father wanted me to get married to the very man who had raped me. So much later in life, after graduating and becoming the very 1st female graduate from my village, I decided to become a voice for the voiceless. (https://metro.co.uk/2019/10/17/dad-tried-to-force-girl-11-marry-the-man-who-raped-her-10931587/?fbclid=IwAR0LCfOabqXfuE93wKtKBWL0Jq092wB6uHiJD7vgIyrQQh3eKgpXRZY0gew

Q: Think back to ten (or more...) years ago. Did you envision your career as it is today?

A: At the age of 11yrs when I was raped by the very people who were supposed to be protecting me, I felt the need to have the powers and capacity to challenge the status quo in my village. My rapist could still walk the streets in the village with proud and nobody could even stand up and/or even question him. I felt like wanted to do something, I felt like there was a need for justice. 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, instead, my mother paid the price by being battered, and losing her tooth and eventually her marriage, when she stood up to my father to stop me from being married off to the very man who raped me. So to the scale of 10, I guess I was envisioning myself to what sort of career I wanted to be involved in.

This work has given me not only positive challenges but an opportunity to uplift the status of Women and Girls in my Village. At least, now all the locals know that rape is a serious crime and can earn you a life sentence - 24yrs rape or sexual harassment wasn’t taken seriously as a crime.

"Love and you 'll be loved back"

Hellen Waiswa Lunkuse Founder & Executive Director, Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF)

Q: Did you have a mentor in life? If yes, what did you learn from him/her? If not, what do you feel you missed out on?

A: My mother – Lillian Waiswa Tanyinga is my mentor. In my eyes, a heroine with a will of a lion and a heart of gold. So strong, she risked her own life just to see me and my siblings through school. Sold off to my father at the age of 14years, she went into this marriage to face several co-wives and countless mistresses. She grew into a strong woman and taught herself how to write and read, she became a village community midwife (birth attendant) at the age of 17yrs. She taught me the importance of honest and knowing what you want. She always emphasized that “Education” is the way. When my father wanted to marry me off, she stood her ground. Threatened with death, beaten into a coma and finally forced to flee from the marriage, she never at any moment given in to the monstrous demands of my father. Even during the darkest of the hour, she taught us that love is the answer. At 78yrs now, she has never opted for revenge and live with hatred. These are values of life I learned and they have shaped me to become a well-respected leader in my community while being recognized internationally.

Being the focused mother she was, I think I missed a childhood since we were living in a culturally dangerous society, she had to protect us so much. Never had so much fun playing in the rain or seek and hide.

Q: What is one thing that impressed you in your mentee?

A: My mentee impressed me by her will to speak out openly at a detailed length, her willingness to learn and share. Coming from an Arabic country, she still wants to learn how she can change some things for the betterment of the women in her country.

Q: Do you think that the concept of 'global thinking' is important?

A: The concept of Global Thinking is highly much appreciated in my view, it makes a lot of sense in our African setting, it exposes people like us to many other lines of thinking and school thoughts. This is a learning platform and I think it should be imparted in many of the African Societies.

Q: What is your motto in life?

A: Love and you 'll be loved back.

Hellen Waiswa Lunkuse

Founder & Executive Director, Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF)

Hellen Lunkuse is the Executive Director of Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF), a Ugandan NGO which works extensively with women and at-risk children, child victims of sexual abuse, and survivors of domestic violence and other forms of GBV. Hellen and her staff have connected survivors to emergency medical and psychosocial services and helped relocate survivors in imminent danger to safety.

Hellen just received one of the 2018 Trust Law Awards from the Thomson Reuters Foundation (specifically the Impact Award), for the project Protecting Children in Uganda. Hellen wanted to ensure that staff and volunteers were fully protecting the rights of children within their network. To add to the Award received, Hellen was a nominee from Global Thinkers Forum in the category of ‘African Female Leaders' which recognizes the best female Philanthropist in Africa. Hellen worked with several partners, including Trust Law and Thomson Reuters Foundation, to create a children’s protection and safeguarding policy. The legal assistance facilitated by Trust Law allowed RHF to train their staff members on the rights of children, as well as handling sensitive information and images in relation to the children under their care. Through community awareness campaigns in surrounding villages and the RHF information centers in rural Uganda, the Child Protection Policy started to create a ripple effect. Word quickly spread through the neighbouring communities, attracting the attention of Moses Binoga, a police officer and Coordinator of the Ugandan National Counter Human Trafficking and US Hero Acting to End Modern Slavery. Mr Binoga, an outspoken advocate and experienced anti-trafficking worker, contacted Hellen about the policy.

Published: 26/11/2019