Author: George Kitsaras
Editor-in-chief / Psychologist / Doctoral researcher

This short profile on Jolly Okot Andruvile is the prelude to a detailed and exclusive interview with George Kitsaras for Animartists & Animartists International.

Jolly Okot Andruvile is an Acholi (one of the native ethnic groups of Uganda) born in Northern Uganda. Jolly’s story is one that defies expectations due to the incredible difficulties she had to overcome. To better understand Jolly’s amazing story it is crucial to also understand the wider context of the area and the country.

As a child, Jolly grew in the same village as Joseph Kony. Today, Kony is the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) a terrorist group responsible for thousands of deaths, children abductions, devastation and destruction. Since 2006, the LRA has been pushed out of Uganda but it is still terrorising neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.  The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Joseph Kony for war crimes and crimes against humanity and Interpol has issued a red notice for his arrest since 2006 but despite on-going efforts Kony remains elusive. The LRA insurgency since 1987 in the North of Uganda had a detrimental negative effect in the lives of hundreds of thousand of people by shredding social cohesion, embedding a climate of fear and destroying, traumatising and even ending the lives of innocent people. Uganda gained independence in 1962 but its short-lived history as an independent country has been tainted by endless unrest, devastation and human suffering.

Back in 1986 as a teenager in that troubled, volatile and unforgiving environment, while walking the 10 miles from home to school Jolly was abducted by a group of rebels that later developed into the LRA. Jolly was kept hostage for the next two years and she was forced to fight, steal from her own community and people at gunpoint and she was repeatedly sexually abused. Despite those horrific circumstances, Jolly did not give up and she was determined to escape and return back to her home and family. After two long and painful years Jolly managed to escape. It was a bittersweet personal victory. When returning home, Jolly realised that her father has been imprisoned and he was soon to be executed. Using her training and experiences while being captive, Jolly organised and led a night-time raid to free her father. When the LRA became aware of Jolly’s actions, they retaliated. A couple of months later, they killed her uncle and a year later they attacked her village killing 21 of her cousins in a single night.

Despite the atrocities, Jolly was determined to go back to school realizing that education was the only hope for creating change. During that time, Jolly was offered a life of freedom in the USA but she declined feeling that she was blessed to be back with her family despite all the difficulties and also feeling a sense of responsibility in helping her community, women and children to rebuilt their lives. Since then, Jolly has dedicated her life in working with communities affected by LRA violence and raising international awareness around the difficulties and challenges that her community and others face in the region. She has worked with many organisations including OXFAM, MSF, and UNHCR and she has also testified in the US Congress in an attempt to increase efforts in capturing Joseph Kony and put an end to LRA activities. She is the founder of HEALS, an organisation focused on providing play therapy for children who are night commuters in the sense of walking for kilometres to avoid capture by the LRA. Because of her work with HEALS, in 2005, Jolly was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, the first and only woman from Uganda to achieve that to date. Around that time, Jolly was involved as the director of the Uganda branch with the organisation Invisible Children where during her time she developed the Legacy Scholarship program securing education for up to 4.800 children. At the moment, Jolly is the CEO of WEND, a socially minded fashion company that employs and empowers women who were affected by the war in Northern Uganda. WEND provides advanced training in tailoring, finance and personal development aiming at shaping self-sufficient, confident, strong and educated women.

Jolly Okot Andruvile is an example of a strong and independent woman, one who managed to overcome adversity, invested in herself through education and ultimately managed to actively support and help her own community in order to improve the lives of those who experienced the same or even worse life events.

The change people want to see in Africa starts with empowering women”, Jolly.

Finally, we would like to give a special thanks to:

Ellen Rushforth
Manchester Global Health Vice-President/Team Gulu Co-lead

Liz Ogilvie
Medical student/Team Gulu Co-Lead

Caitlin Sheehy
Medical student/International Partners Office Manchester Global Health) as collaborators under the main editor.