Empowering Hands Uganda (EHU) was founded by a group of formerly abducted women to serve other formerly abducted persons. The organization responds to the changing needs of victims over time largely through its 20 dialogue and support groups that serve more than 800 people. The organization has three areas of focus:
Economic Empowerment and Livelihoods Program: EHU provides community groups with resources and training in commercial agriculture, small business management skills, and micro loan programs. With an emphasis on economic development, EHU helps each group detail a vision to advance its interests. Some groups run revolving loans for their membership; some have been provided with resources such as oxen and ox ploughs, many groups have started small businesses primarily selling food. Each group member is coached to construct a personal development plan that connects with the group’s resources. Group members work together to fulfill collective and individual goals.
Peacebuilding and Dialogue: EHU created conflict dialogue groups in response to friction between formerly abducted persons and other community members. EHU saw the need to form and empower structures in the community to encourage peaceful resolution of disputes. EHU conducts trainings and sensitization in mediation, peacebuilding, managing dialogues, and conflict warning signs. Stigma against formerly abducted persons has been greatly reduced because of the ongoing work of these groups. EHU is now working to mediate domestic occurrences of violence, land disputes, and other issues of concern identified by community members.
Counseling: EHU conducts small-scale counseling sessions with an emphasis on reintegration, and makes referrals when greater care is needed. EHU has a partnership with Gulu Hospital to assist in counseling services. EHU sees cases with ongoing and recurrent instances of trauma, particularly since many formerly abducted persons did not receive adequate counseling upon their return. EHU counseling emphasizes strengthening society so as not to abandon anyone.
EHU has developed a number of key partnerships to advance work on behalf of victims at the regional level. EHU provides assistance to the Uganda Reparations Coalition and is on the steering committee of the Uganda Victims Foundation. EHU is the regional head for the Acholi subregion for the Uganda Coalition for the ICC
Community Impact Profile: Alfred Ayoo
Alfred Ayoo, a member of Empowering Hands Uganda, shares his personal story of survival and hope:
My name is Ayoo Alfred. I am 26 years old and married with two children. I am the Chairperson of
Waroco-kwo Group, in Minakulo, one of the groups supported by EH with assistance from AusAID
through the Uganda Fund. EH has helped me overcome the problems I faced as a former rebel captive.
I was abducted at the age of 11 and remained in rebel captivity for
10 years. In 2003 I escaped during combat against government
troops in Kitgum. I was taken to a reception center for two weeks and
was then brought to Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO)
where I received counseling and treatment for sustained injuries due
to torture by the rebels. I left home as a healthy 11 year-old boy and
returned a disabled man. Finally, I was reunited with my family in
Upon returning home, I learned that my father was dead and my
mother was cohabiting with another man. Soon the excitement of my
return waned and my resettlement package was spent; I now had
to fend for myself. My step-father rejected me, and opted to move with
my mother into his house leaving me alone and unprepared to face
the harsh realities of life in an IDP camp. Being disabled and
alone, in fear of the future and lacking support, the pressure became too much for me and I had a
mental breakdown. I started roaming the camp, looking for food in garbage pits; camp residents started
calling me “Ayoo Apoa”, meaning “the mad man”. I knew I was not mad but was weighed down by the
burden of disability, poverty and not belonging. I lived this life of shame, pain and hopelessness
amongst my own people for nearly half a year.
One fateful day, I heard there was a group of formerly abducted child mothers registering former rebel
captives for some sort of aid. I rushed there immediately, but was very disappointed to learn that my
fellow returnees did not want a “mad man” to join their group. Thankfully, the child mothers who were
from EH insisted on registering me. These women, who had also suffered in captivity, were now well
dressed and talking about moving on with their lives. I was inspired with a new kind of hope and started
to believe that I too could engage with society and have a successful future.
EH treated all group members as equals, and counseled us vigorously. After many counseling sessions,
the other group members realized that I was just like them. Relieved to have people to talk and share
with, I became very active in group activities. My life started to feel normal and I returned to my home to
engage in farming. EH later introduced business skills training to our group, which I took seriously and I
became one of the first members of our group to receive an EH start-up loan. I started a business selling
pancakes to a local school with the loan and the business progressed so well that I became independent
and could afford most of what I wanted on my own. I became so self reliant that my mother and step-
father returned home and I took care of them. I felt confident enough to return to primary school even
though I was so much older. Later I completed technical training to become a builder. Now my business
has grown, I am financially stable, am married with two children, and have become the Chairperson of
Waroco – kwo group. I still have challenges like any other person, but I have the skills and determination
to face and overcome them.
I give my sincere thanks to Empowering Hands and the Uganda Fund for empowering me to overcome a
traumatic past and change my life.