From child soldier to global campaigner
In July 2010 Juliet, a young woman from one of the schools we support in Northern Uganda, came to visit us.
Here we tell her inspirational story and reveal what happened when she took her message all the way to Downing Street.
Juliet’s unborn baby turned out to be her saviour.
Kidnapped by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in Northern Uganda when she was just 12 years old, Juliet had no means of escape from the bush where she was being held captive.
At 16 she fell pregnant after being forced to become the ‘wife’ of a rebel commander.
“Soldiers are not allowed to fall in love. If one is caught charming a girl he is killed. Girls are there to be used whenever they want.”
During labour, she was forced to walk for miles as the rebels tried to evade the Ugandan army. The journey caused her son to die before he was even born. So Juliet had to endure an agonising operation to remove the baby.
There was no anaesthetic, just a local doctor and a razor blade.
“If your baby dies you are not supposed to mourn for it. If you do, they will kill you. You have just to go somewhere secretly and cry. When you return, you should look like nothing has happened.”
After the crude operation Juliet’s health rapidly deteriorated. However, during peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan Government in 2006 she was given the chance to get hospital treatment in neighbouring Kenya – though an LRA escort had to stay with her at all times.
While in hospital Juliet befriended a nurse who heard her story and helped her to escape.
“When I was packing my bags I felt no fear. All I knew is that I was not going back to that place”
Juliet, with the assistance of the Ugandan Embassy, was then able to board a flight back to the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
Juliet now attends a school in Northern Uganda created especially for girls who have missed out on education because of the conflict. She is working hard to catch up on the years of schooling she missed whilst in captivity with the LRA
“When I came back I really wanted to go back to school. Although a terrible thing happened to me when my baby died, it led me to get the chance to escape. It shows that something positive can come from something terrible.”
Juliet now hopes to continue her studies at university and qualify as a lawyer so that she can bring those who have recruited and abused girls to justice. As she points out: “Many girls have been through hardship like me, they are denied an education.”
To help Juliet get her voice heard and her plight understood, we brought her to London for a week. We supported her to campaign on behalf of the thousands of girls in northern Uganda who are still being denied an education.
She delivered a personal letter and video message to the Prime Minister, appeared on TV and radio, lobbied politicians and inspired school students with her incredible story and compassionate, positive outlook.
Juliet’s letter received a personal response from David Cameron and she was mentioned in a debate in the House of Lords by Lord Alton after meeting him. Audiences across CNN, BBC Radio 4, The BBC World Service and beyond heard her incredible story, and she made a real impact on the lives of the young people she met in the two schools she visited whilst she was here.
Hundreds of school students wrote and signed letters in support of Juliet, and we used those to lobby politicians as part of the Global Campaign for Education and the Millennium Development Goals summit meeting in New York in September.
Juliet hopes her journey - from abducted child soldier to global campaigner - will demonstrate the power of education not only in transforming the lives of individuals but also conflict-affected countries as a whole. As Juliet says, “children who experience terrible things can also achieve great things in life – if they are given an education.”