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Global affairs graduate student receives amnesty award for work in Uganda

| Wednesday, February 19, 2020

When Victoria Nyanjura noticed a hole in the Women’s Advocacy Network in Uganda, she knew she had to act.

A graduate student in Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, Nyanjura is a Ugandan native who is a survivor of captivity. At 14 years old, she was abducted in Aboke, Uganda, by the paramilitary group Lord’s Resistance Army. She was a prisoner for eight years before escaping.

Years later, Nyanjura graduated from Kyambogo University in Kampala, Uganda as an undergraduate student. She then traveled back to Uganda, where she realized economic empowerment was missing in a system meant to assist women who had been previously enslaved.

As a response, in 2017 she established Women in Action for Women (WAW), an organization focused on offering women vocational skills and business training.

“I realized this is an area that some of us need to think deeper, and it needs to really be talked about and explained because people need to understand the importance of building these skills of individuals that enable them to go independent and be able to provide for themselves,” Nyanjura said. 

As was recently made clear, her effort did not go unnoticed.

On Feb. 5, Nyanjura was announced as one of two recipients of the 2019 Ginetta Sagan Award for her work empowering women in Uganda. The award, which also grants the winner $20,000, is given annually to recognize and assist “women who are working to protect the liberty and lives of women and children in areas where human rights violations are widespread,” according to Amnesty International USA.

“I was blessed to work on and to coordinate the activities of the Women’s Advocacy Network,” Nyanjura said. “Over the years … I kept on seeing something that was missing in all that was being done [and that] was the component of economic empowerment.” 

WAW stresses meeting women where they are and making opportunities accessible, Nyanjura said.

“This issue requires doing something that works for the women, so they don’t have to think of the international market,” she said. “The market should come their way, and it should focus on what they can do within their communities where they are located and they should be able to access markets by themselves.”

Nyanjura found her way to Notre Dame to build her skills and networking in hopes of better helping her community. 

“After college, I went and started working, but I felt that I really needed to build my capacity in a lot of things in terms of writing and in terms of understanding theories in peacebuilding and comparing what has happened to other places,” Nyanjura said.

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies offered her that opportunity.

Nyanjura will graduate in May with a master in Global Affairs and a concentration in International Peace Studies. She plans to return to Uganda to further her foundation’s reach. 

“Right now I am very sure that when I get back, I [will be] able to do more for WAW and at the same time, I will have the ability to continue knocking down doors and seeing how we can partner with individuals who are interested in supporting a common cause,” Nyanjura said. 

One of Nyanjura’s biggest obstacles has been having the courage to tell her story. Even so, she says receiving the International Amnesty award has been one step forward in having her voice heard.

“I think that telling is hard right now and continuing to advocate, to really make people understand that we have unique challenges that need to be tackled in specific ways,” she said. “[The award] has motivated me to continue telling this story.”

 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the university where Nyanjura graduated. She graduated from Kyambogo University, not Campbell University.

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a sophomore pursuing a major in history with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as an associate news editor.

Contact Alysa