Agnes Igoye is the training manager at the directorate of citizenship and immigration control in Uganda, where she trains law enforcement and others on issues surrounding human trafficking and migration.
But more than that, she is a leader and a survivor.
In addition to her work for Uganda’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Igoye recently initiated the Huts For Peace program and, as part of her commitment of action at the Clinton Global Initiative, developed a youth rehabilitation facility for victims of trafficking.
“No one can tell me there’s something I can’t do,” says Igoye, who studied forced migration at the University of Oxford and took part in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Started in February of this year, The Huts For Peace program is a community-based self-help initiative for women displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict who have suffered torture and gender-based violence. Using mostly locally available materials, the women in the program have so far constructed huts for 15 women and 120 children in their care. To purchase materials, like nails and hardwood, that are not locally available, Igoye uses personal resources and well-wishers and friends have since joined by sponsoring huts.
“The women build communities, while spreading a message of peace and reconciliation,” says Igoye.
In 2011, Igoye and her sisters started the Chain of Hope rehabilitation center to provide shelter and healing to orphaned children, many of whom survived violence and abduction by the LRA.
“The center is more than a shelter. It is a safe place for psychosocial healing and love,” Igoye says.
As a family, the Igoye’s have also founded St. Jude Junior School, which they have dedicated to the education of these vulnerable children and children with disabilities. Agnes serves as chair of the school’s board of directors. She recently partnered with Books For Africa and was able to get 23,000 books from the U.S. shipped to support the school and the education of other children in Uganda.
All of this from a woman whose life was violently uprooted at an early age — first by Uganda’s civil war and again by the terror of Joseph Kony and the LRA.
In 1985, Igoye, then 13 years old, was living in Kampala with her mother, father, and seven siblings when then President Apollo Milton Obote was toppled in a coup by Tito Okello Lutwa and shortly after in 1986, the National Resistance Army’s guerrilla war came to the city.
“I remember putting cotton in my ears to block out the sounds of the fighting, and crawling to our small cassava garden when we ran out of food because we were afraid of getting shot,” says Igoye.
To escape the fighting, Igoye’s parents took the family to her father’s home village in Eastern Uganda, not knowing that soon after they arrived, so would Joseph Kony’s LRA.
“We had to flee,” says Igoye, whose memories of seeing extended family members dragged away by Kony’s soldiers are still too wrenching for her to discuss in any detail.
Losing all their property, the family eventually made it to an internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp at a Catholic mission and from there back to the now peaceful city of Kampala, where her father was able to resume his teaching career and get his daughters enrolled in a boarding school.
“Thankfully, my parents were determined that all of us would receive an education. There are many girls in Uganda who aren’t so lucky,” says Igoye.
After getting her undergraduate degree in 1995 at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, Igoye joined the immigration service and went back to school while working to get her master’s degree.
For her studies, Igoye decided to research the abductions still taking place in Uganda and traveled back to Northern Uganda for a first-hand look at the devastation these abductions were causing families and communities.
“People told me I was crazy to go back there but I wanted to do it so bad. I wanted to help those people so much that I couldn’t not go,” says Igoye, who ended up making several trips into the still very dangerous areas.
Igoye’s big break with the immigration service came 10 years later when she was working at the border between Uganda and Kenya.
A young man was trying to cross the border when Igoye’s “sixth sense” kicked in.
“We spent some more time talking with him and noticed he had suffered a gunshot wound at one point and some other things and decided to detain him,” recalls Igoye. “It turned out he was a member of the LRA wanted for killing women and children. He had cooked their flesh and made the villagers eat it.”
The next day a group of young girls, some carrying children, also tried to cross the border. Again, Igoye’s background helped her. She was able to identify the women as followers of the warlord and to convince her fellow border agents that they should be treated as victims of the war, not participants.
“When my superiors arrived and asked me how I was able to identify these people, I told them about the signs and mannerisms that I looked for and I also told them that I could train others to do the same,” says Igoye. “That was the day I was named the training manager at the directorate of citizenship and immigration control.”
In the years since, Igoye has trained thousands, both in Uganda and elsewhere on immigration and human trafficking issues.
“I’ve been able to take what I’ve been through and use it to be a force for positive change. Because of what I’ve been through I have the strength now to do anything,” says Igoye.