Quakers Partner to Aid Survivors of Sexual Violence in Uganda

Vital Voices photos by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images


ast year, Hellen Lunkuse, a co-clerk of Bulungi Tree Shade Meeting in Kamuli, Eastern Uganda, earned a Global Leadership Award from Vital Voices Global Partnership for her work as founder and executive director of Rape Hurts Foundation. Rape Hurts Foundation is a nonprofit, non-govermental organization that offers trauma-informed care, education, and vocational training to female survivors of rape. Lunkuse accepted the award at an October 25, 2023 ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Vital Voices supports the foundation through capacity building, funding, and relocating rape survivors, according to Lunkuse. Since 1997, Vital Voices has supported more than 20,000 women, enabling skill acquisition, networking, and publicity, according to its website.

During a week-long capacity building training in D.C., Lunkuse shared her work with more than 1,000 people. Speaking of the training she received, she said, “It was a very important period of time.”

Rape Hurts Foundation and its partner organization, Bulungi Tree Shade Meeting, have a long-standing relationship with Olympia (Wash.) Meeting in the United States, which financially supports them and has sent members to visit them in Uganda.

Lunkuse and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the awards ceremony. Clinton is a cofounder of Vital Voices with the late Secretary Madeleine Albright.

In 1995, Lunkuse was raped at age 11 while gathering firewood and water. The attacker was a well-respected man in her community. Lunkuse’s father, as well as the rest of the village, demanded that she marry the assailant, but she refused. Lunkuse’s mother supported her, and the father threw both of them out of the house.

Based on her own experience, Lunkuse founded Rape Hurts Foundation in 2008, which offers practical and psychological care to women and girls who have survived rape in rural districts of Eastern Uganda. Poverty often keeps rape survivors from advocating for themselves, so the foundation offers vocational training to economically empower women and girls who have been victimized.

Bulungi Tree Shade Meeting, which Lunkuse started in 2019, gathers twice a week to meditate and to share the individual struggles that worshipers are facing. The meeting is also caring for 125 boys who were victims of sex trafficking. The police referred the trafficking victims to the meeting, according to Lunkuse.

“All the people that gather with us are survivors. Most of our people are typically needy,” Lunkuse said.

To address worshipers’ economic needs, the meeting offers food and education, including training in such skills as soap making, knitting, and crocheting. Members who have experienced sexual trauma start on a path to self-forgiveness through the meeting’s psychosocial support, according to Lunkuse.

Left: Members of Bulungi Tree Shade Meeting, including Lunkuse (second from left) and Rape Hurts Foundation program director Robert Mboizi (right). Right: A group of boys under the care of the meeting. Some of the boys are survivors of trafficking in persons, and others were abandoned by the guardians or parents. Photos courtesy of Hellen Lunkuse.

The meeting and the foundation receive support from Friends at Olympia Meeting, whose members David Albert and Kathleen O’Shaunessy first got involved in working in Uganda through serving on the board of Friendly Water for the World, an organization that partners with residents of countries in Africa to improve water supplies. At the village level, Friendly Water promotes building water storage tanks; at the household level, it offers slow sand filters to remove pathogens. Lunkuse’s undergraduate degree is in environmental management, and she started collaborating with Friendly Water for the World in 2015. Albert met Lunkuse when he visited Uganda in 2018 as part of his work with Friendly Water. That year a team came to Uganda for a conference, and Lunkuse got to know O’Shaunessy. Lunkuse appreciates the love and care of Olympia Meeting.

O’Shaunessy is a clinical psychologist who works with survivors of trauma and sexual abuse, and she attended a week-long conference in Mityana, Uganda, in 2018. During her month-long visit, she volunteered with Lunkuse to assist clients of Rape Hurts Foundation. Speaking through an interpreter, she counseled 25 female rape survivors for an hour each. When she asked each what they most needed help with, many mentioned food security and adequate shelter. O’Shaunessy credits Lunkuse for preparing the women to speak candidly about their lives and struggles. One 19-year-old woman who worked as a police officer explained that she would be fired from her job if her supervisors knew she was attending counseling sessions through Rape Hurts Foundation.

“They came prepared to be honest with me about their lives. And a number of them were kind of anxious. I felt frightened. But they all did. Every one of them did remarkably well. They were honest, and they had talked with me about what had gone on,” O’Shaunessy said.

Sharlee DiMenichi

Sharlee DiMenichi is a staff writer for Friends Journal. Contact: sharlee@friendsjournal.org.

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