From child soldier to global campaigner
Abducted at 12. Pregnant at 16. Recruited into a rebel army in Uganda.
It's a long way from there to Downing Street and taking a message of education to key decision makers, but one young woman did it.
This is her story...
Polline’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, Polline 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 Polline 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 Polline’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 she 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”
Polline, with the assistance of the Ugandan Embassy, was then able to board a flight back to the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
Polline is now continuing her studies at university and hopes to 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.”
“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.”
And now she is taking her message to decision makers and influential people around the world.
We are supporting her to campaign on behalf of the thousands of girls in northern Uganda who are still being denied an education.
She attended the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June 2015. She met with UK Prime Minster David Cameron and also helped launch our Draw Me To Safety project with UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie.
Audiences across CNN, BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and beyond heard her incredible story. She has also visited schools and made a real impact on the lives of the young people she met there.
Polline 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 she says, “children who experience terrible things can also achieve great things in life – if they are given an education.”
Note: Polline's name had been changed to Juliet in the video above.