Madam Wokie is Inspired: the story of Ann Grace Nakasi

While this pic doesn't say much about my fashion sense (even I admit that I look kinda awful), it's probably one of the most serious pieces I've written outside my school work. This picture was taken in Uganda last year while I was on work experience. The two women on my left  are Ann Grace Nakasi  and Rosebell Idaltu Kagumire respectively. Although both ladies have inspired me in different ways, I feel compelled to share Grace's story with you in the hope that we could all learn a lesson from it. 

Ann Grace Nakasi is currently a female chancellor in northeastern Uganda. Her personal story is one of determination, resilience and strength, and put in her situation, I doubt most people would survive. While many people many not be aware of this, Uganda like Sierra Leone experienced decades of civil war which adversely affected the country's economy, damaged the society's social fabric  and instilled violence as a common occurence in society. The conflict was especially hard on women who turned out to be the most unfortunate victims. The sexual abuse, physical and psychological torture of women was a common denominator and greatly impacted their economic status, their access to justice and ultimately their mental and sexual health. Ann Grace Nakasi was one of such victims. In the late 1980's, she was raped on three separate occasions by a total of 19 different men; including soldiers from the different warring factions who has been charged with  responsibility of protecting civilians. Because of her ordeal, she became infected  with HIV, subsequently resulting in her being excommunicated and ostracised by her community; including her family who prevented her from staying in her home or seeing her children.

 After the cessation of hostilities and the distribution of aid which followed, several efforts were made to prevent her form receiving aid as many people in her community felt she was a dying woman and therefore a waste of resources. Fortunately for her, she came into contact with  ISIS-Women's International Cross Cultural Exchange (the organisation I was working with), a women’s group formed by an institute alumna from Teso Women Peace Activists (TEWPA).  Her interaction with the organisation transformed her life as she received medical and socio-economic assistance for herself and other women suffering from HIV. She was also able to inspire others to get tested for the disease and established the Achuna Ogolai PTC to support women and formerly abducted girls who experienced sexual violence and are HIV infected. Her efforts eventually paid of as increased awareness about HIV/AIDS and her physical transformation led to her family accepting her and her community embracing her. By what I would consider a miracle, she  forgave those that had ostracised her end went to extraordinary lengths to promote reconciliation and ensure development in her community. This made her a pinnacle in her society; as not only did her interaction with aid organisations make her a spokesperson for her community, her story was used as a source of inspiration for aid agencies to donate to her community. 

 Her status in society spurred her to contest the local council elections in a highly patriarchal society where women's roles are mostly designated to the household. To the amazement of herself and her community, she won. I was present  on the day of the elections and words could not describe the overwhelming feeling I got watching her address her community, encouraging them to vote for her and examine the way they treated ostracised members of the community. Words could also not describe the feeling I got standing in a room full of optimistic HIV positive women singing and dancing in encouragement of their fellow woman who went against tradition to stand against men who were complacent in her suffering, men whose interests she is now responsible for and who she fights selflessly for. Nakasi uses her unfortunate experience to emphasized the power of women leaders in addressing women’s peace and security concerns and encourage donors to channel resources to women leaders at grassroots level who are closer to the problem and better aware of the best solutions. She is proud of herself for accomplishing what many average individuals, including influencial men, have bee unable to achieve. 

Not only has she contributed to improving the status of marginalised people in society, she has raised awareness of a taboo issue, become a representative for her community and addressed both the African Union in Uganda and the United Nations in New York. Despite not being proficient in the English language, never had any formal education or even being taught any leadership skills, Ann Grace Nakasi's voice has reached a regional and internal level and proves that despite  past or unfortunate experiences, we are still able surpass society's expectations. She proves that despite the perceived weaknesses of women in society, we are the pillars of such societies and are important in maintaining the social fabric as mothers, wives, children and nurturers. I think Beyonce's "Run the World" song is a tribute to women like Ann Grace Nakasi and I am therefore dedicating it to women like her across the world...

Madam Wokie is inspired by Ann Grace Nakasi....I hope you are...

xoxo Musu


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