Florence Apuri was in high school when she first understood the challenges of educating a girl in northern Uganda. The second of nine children, Florence grew up in a small village in northern Uganda that has experienced the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. While in her third year of high school, Florence’s uncles brutally beat her father for sending her to school instead of giving her away to marriage so that she could earn a dowry for the family.
When she was in college, Florence’s future was again called into question when she was abducted by the LRA. Florence was held in the bush for over two weeks until she managed to escape and return home. In an interview with Enough, Florence told her story:
They broke into our dormitory in the middle of the night and rounded us up – 24 confused and terrified young women… We were walked, at gunpoint, for hundreds and hundreds of miles over three days and nights, resting no more than 30 minutes at any point in time.
After the first day’s walking, we were all packed in a tiny grass-thatched hut and told to sleep. No one wanted to sleep near the door for fear the rebels would rape us in the night, so we piled up on top of each other by the corner of the hut. Sleep was unheard of in such situations.
Eventually we were taken to the rebel leader, Joseph Kony, who told some of us, including me, he was going to release us. We worried it was a trick to kill us, but eventually we believed him enough to flee. However, some of my classmates were not so lucky. They were raped and taken as sex slaves – gifts to our captors for a ‘job well done.’
For those who escaped, the stigma was almost overwhelming. None of us expected such a level of abuse and discrimination: labeled wives of rebels, victims of rape – most girls who were engaged were swiftly disengaged by their fiancés.
Upon her return, Florence continued to go to school and received her degree in education so that she could teach in a secondary school in war-torn northern Uganda.
Florence now works with ActionAid International Uganda and uses her experiences to help those who have been abducted or suffer from the impact of poverty in northern Uganda, a region that has maintained a fragile peace since the LRA moved into parts of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. After living for so many years with the LRA in their midst, the communities in northern Uganda now faces major structural and societal challenges. Through her work, Florence counsels formerly abducted girls, who have been forced to serve as soldiers, sex slaves, and porters, and who struggle to reintegrate back into their communities after living in LRA captivity. Using drama as way to address these issues, Florence encourages the girls to confront their past.
“The fact that you have been abducted is a truth you will never erase from your life,” she said in an International Women’s Day interview with The Independent. As she shares her life story with young girls who have been abducted or are children of LRA commanders, who have been stigmatized by their friends and families, bear the scars of war, and face serious psychological problems, Florence shows them that life does go on, just as hers did.
After a number of years working for ActionAfrica, the Ford Foundation in the United States recognized Florence’s leadership and commitment to social justice by awarding her an international fellowship. She was accepted into the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and graduated with a master’s in public administration in 2008.
In addition to her focus on her own education and the education of others, the other constant in Florence’s life has been her 17 years of work with ActionAid International in Uganda. ActionAid is an anti-poverty organization dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged people worldwide. The group specifically works with local implementing partners to ensure a positive impact in the affected communities. In northern Uganda, Florence has worked on a variety of development projects to build and strengthen women’s organizations and movements. In her current role as the director of partnership funding and scholarship for ActionAid in Kampala, Florence coordinates efforts across the country to increase program funding and maintain donor relations.
While Florence no longer lives in northern Uganda, she keeps in touch with the women and girls that she worked with, and she says her heart is still with the people of northern Uganda. “I am so inspired by the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of northern Uganda despite the arduous living conditions they have had for over two decades,” Florence said. “They are currently making the best use of the little semblance of peace available to rebuild their lives.”