Author: George Kitsaras
WEND Africa’s profile is presented in the following article as an atypical introduction to the stories of 3 women, former abductees by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who are now rebuilding their lives through their involvement with WEND Africa.
Jolly Okot-Andruvile needs no further introductions: former abductee by the LRA during the long-term unrest in Northern Uganda, humanitarian with wide participation in community and societal issues and the first woman from Uganda to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. From her countless endeavours Invisible Children still remains the most well-known one internationally. Today, the high days of Invisible Children, especially in 2012 with the now infamous KONY 2012 campaign, are far away. Developments in Invisible Children during its widely published collapse brought with them shock and disbelief. Despite the initial shock Jolly managed to quickly recover and move forward. From the ashes of Invisible Children WEND Africa, based in Gulu town, Northern Uganda was born. WEND stands for Women, Empowerment, Design, Network representing in essence Jolly’s core beliefs and ideas. A big part of WEND Africa’s infrastructure came through Invisible Children during a long battle to preserve whatever was left from that organisation. While one organisation, one idea with dreams and plans lied to rest another, another organisation, this time much closer to its true beneficiaries, was born.
WEND Africa, based on the model of social enterprises, focuses solely on women from Northern Uganda who have been victims of LRA violence and abuse. Through WEND these women learn skills around tailoring, product design and production while receiving an income for their work. Additionally, women of WEND receive constant support in an attempt to restart their education that was abruptly stopped. Moreover, women with children, most often the result of systematic sexual abuse and rape while in captivity, are given extra support for day-to-day practicalities. Through all these actions WEND Africa aims at steadily empowering women with an ultimate goal of helping them to be fully independent.
WEND Africa have 3 tiers of education-training. During initial contact with WEND, women, some of them just recently freed from captivity, are taught basic tailoring skills. Women who already work for WEND and have more years of experience act as their tutors. Apart from offering more experienced tailors a chance to develop additional skills on supervision this system provides newcomers with peer-support. Basic tailoring skills are used for the production of stuffed animals such as elephants, giraffes and lions using traditional fabrics from the region. After a few months, and upon mastering the creation of stuffed animals, women move to more advance tailoring and manufacturing processes including use of sewing machines. At this second tier women are becoming even more involved with production of more complicated patterns and designs. At the third and final tier, women return to basic tailoring this time as tutors completing their journey through WEND.
The stuffed animals made with traditional fabrics as well as every WEND Africa product are available for purchase in both markets around the USA and England and online. Sales of its products help WEND Africa to provide constant support and a steady income to the women working for the organization providing the cornerstone to their slow yet steady reintegration and progression in society.
WEND Africa was born during a difficult period for Jolly. Within a short period, WEND Africa has managed to change the lives of many women through a model of tutoring – education – peer-support – work. WEND Africa’s future heavily depends upon all of us. We, as potentially future clients of WEND and other similar organisations throughout the world, can reward their work and promote their efforts. Jolly and WEND Africa believe in the capabilities of women in Northern Uganda and beyond; women from the wider area believe in Jolly and her organisation’s plans and promises. As Jolly once said: “women’s empowerment is key for the future of Africa. Without empowerment sustained and beneficial changes are impossible to be achieved. Look around you, strong, independent and autonomous women are the epicentre of successful families and communities.”
More information about WEND Africa available at: https://www.wendafrica.com/
To purchase WEND Africa’s products please visit: https://www.wendafricashop.org/