GULU, UGANDA – During the two-decade war that ravaged northern Uganda, Pamela Angwech decided to join the fight in her own way.
“It is as if the battlefield was in the body of the woman,” says Angwech, who is in her early 30s. “The soldiers lost their strategy, and the war shifted from the national agenda to the body of the woman.”
To give these women a voice, she started Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalization in Gulu, a district in northern Uganda, about midway through the war. Her goal was to create a platform for women at every level of society to participate in realities affecting their lives.
“The woman needs to move from the grassroots to the national and onto the global level,” says Angwech, executive director of the organization. “That is when the woman will be complete.”
Angwech was in primary school when the war started in 1986 between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army. She says the nuns at her school used to lock the students in the convent conference hall or make them hide in the ceiling during the night in order to protect them from the mass abductions of schoolchildren by the rebels.
The war was still raging when she completed secondary school in 1995 and moved on to college. After attaining a degree in business, she wanted to work with the United Nations.
"It had so many vehicles moving around the Gulu town," she says. "But above all, I felt deep concern about the universal and global visibility of the U.N., especially its approaches of helping refugees and the internally displaced people in the camps at the time."
She also needed to support her mother and siblings because her father had died of an illness some years before.
“I badly needed a job,” she says, “as I and my siblings barely had anything to survive on.”
Each morning, she would sit at the gate of the U.N. offices, hoping to get a chance to plead her case. A week later, a World Food Programme officer asked her why she sat at the gate each morning. She told him that she was an orphan and wanted to work for the United Nations. He offered her a volunteer position distributing food aid to internally displaced people in the camps.
From hitting a land mine to falling into a rebel ambush, Angwech says they took many risks getting the food to the camps. At the distribution centers, Angwech used to climb on top of the vehicles to unload the food.
From the vantage point atop the trucks, she noticed that the long food lines mainly consisted of women, many of them with babies on their backs. There were also a lot of elderly women, and rogue boys would sometimes waylay them in order to steal their food. If anyone missed or lost their monthly ration, that family would go without food for the month.
People stood in the lines for hours waiting for the food. The number of