Akullo’s journey from sex slavery to educator and author in the US
What you need to know:
- Journey to the top. Akullo has just published her first book titled BeHind the Shine, an epic tale of strength, courage and faith. It’s a story of one woman’s journey from hell. The book was published last year by World of Inspiration Publications based in Makerere. It was also published in the US.
There are people who had a happy childhood, those who had an unhappy childhood and those who had hell for a childhood.
For obvious reasons, a person’s childhood tends to have the most impact on their adulthood.
But there are exceptions. Sometimes a person who had hell for a childhood rises out of the ashes like the mythical phoenix. They develop a knack for resurrecting from every death that comes upon them because such people die multiple times in one lifetime and yet refuse to be buried.
Take Colorado-based educator and author, Evelyn Akullo Otwili for instance. She was molested at two, lost both her parents by age eight to HIV/Aids that her mother contracted from being raped by a UPDF soldier, was displaced by war at a tender age, spent much of her childhood manoeuvring through the dark streets of war-torn Gulu trying to dodge the heartless abductors from the Lord’s Resistance Army Rebels (LRA), endured the trauma of witnessing relatives and close friends killed or abducted by rebels and became a sex slave to her teacher who was helping her financially during secondary school.
You’d think Satan and his minions would throw their hands up at this point and give up on her, but you’d be wrong.
Struggles at Gulu University
“After suffering as a sex slave in secondary school, I still passed and qualified for university. In 2006, I joined Gulu University for a Bachelor of Development Studies, sponsored by a maternal uncle. However, he suddenly stopped paying for me in the first semester of year one without any notice. I was left with two options; drop out of the university or beat the odds and stay and complete my degree,” she says. Beat the odds she did.
“I did several things to fund my studies at the Gulu University. I did course work for fellow classmates at a fee, taught Luo classes to expatriates at Invisible Children in Gulu and I used part of this money to rent a premises in Gulu where I ran a poultry project and hand washed clothes for money,” she adds.
While at Gulu University, Akullo would meet a young man who she would soon fall in love with and later cohabit with. You’d think she would finally catch a break for the first time in her life. But you’d be wrong. As it turned out, the young man was very abusive and callous. But Akullo was patient.
When she graduated in 2011, she fully focused on making the relationship work. From her poultry farm and other ventures, she would build a house for the family. But the relationship was never meant to be. And after eight long years of cruelty and two children, she finally let go.
“I left everything. A three-bedroom house and three rentals I had built, some crops and some livestock. The only things I picked were my children’s books and clothes. On that first night that the children and I left, we slept on bare floor,” she says.
It was time for a new chapter; a chapter of focusing on rebuilding her tattered life, with the help of Jesus. She had come along way to give up now. Luckily, she had been volunteering at the Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) since 2007. That charitable toil would soon morph into a paid job of research officer and documentation team leader.
Here, she worked directly with conflict-affected communities. She spent her days with massacre survivors, formerly abducted persons, orphans, widows, children born of war, maim victims, among others.
On top of her job as a young researcher, Akullo used her experiences, knowledge and education to mentor and provide support through counselling. She would also teach them life skills like baking and agriculture.
Catching a break, finally
In late 2014, a professor from the University of Notre Dame selected Akullo out of a pool of 26 country-wide local researchers who conducted consultation on the notion of forgiveness and peace building in Uganda to go and present at a conference in Washington DC, in the US.
“After the conference, Prof Dan Philpott said to me, ‘You would be a great resource to the University of Notre Dame Community. Please go and look for call of application and apply to our graduate programme.’ When I did, the online search for call of application to the graduate programme was a little intimidating. Nonetheless, I told myself that, ‘I may not have all that it takes but I have wealth of experience and a desire to learn’,” she says.
In the end, Akullo was among the 18 students selected from 15 countries around the world. She was awarded a scholarship of $130,000 with six months of paid internship placement in the Middle East.
“I graduated in 2017 from the University of Notre Dame with a Master of Arts in International Peace Studies, where I majored in Conflict Analysis and Transformation, and minored in Organisation Leadership and Management,” she says.
Meeting the love of her life
In late 2016, something deeply spiritual happened to Akullo. She happens to be a very deeply devoted Christian.
“I took a moment of prayer [for a husband], and I remember the Lord telling me clearly to beautify myself and be expectant. I didn’t know how. I was still in pain and thought I was fine being on my own,” she says.
“Prophecies also came from Uganda and outside Uganda giving specifics of the man and the city I would meet him. After the prayer this stranger who incidentally had been silently following me for almost a year, gave me a call on messenger, and said, ‘Hello Evelyn, there is something crucial I need to talk to you about. But I can’t say it on this platform. Please give me your phone number so that I call’.
“I hesitated for a moment but for some unknown reason after he insisted, I ended up giving it to him my phone number. Then his call came right away and he said, ‘Evelyn, I don’t want you for a friend. I don’t want you for a girlfriend. I want you for a wife’. We ended up talking for five hours on the phone, something I had never done. The next day when he called again, I asked him to repeat to me what he had told me the previous day. And he did. The rest is history.”
Akullo is married to Peter Okwera, a Ugandan-American and a soldier in the US Army. She is a mother of six children; two adopted and four biological.
“My husband saw the best in me at the time when I personally wasn’t seeing that. His heart is larger than his chest. He is an empowering person, intelligent, humorous, industrious, and someone you can count on. He holds a Master of Science in Aviation from Middle Tennessee State University,” she says.
In 2019, Akullo became a permanent resident of the USA, and she currently live in Colorado with her husband. From 2019 to date, she has been working in the field of Early Childhood Education. She’s the early childhood lead teacher at Primrose in Aurora, Colorado. Her mission is that the abuses she suffered as a child should never happen to any other child.
“Protection, empathy, and proper nurture of the child as the foundation of concrete adulthood are the main drive to what I do,” she says.