Hellen's Journey to Survivor's Shelter



My name is Hellen Keller ALYEK, retired superintendent of the Ugandan Police Force.  My home district is in Lira, Northern Uganda.  This is one of the districts in Northern Uganda that has been engaged in armed conflict for 20 years.

During my service with the Ugandan Police Force I recognized the need for a shelter in the community for the protection of women and children who were survivors of sexual and gender based violence.


I come from a very poor family.  My parents had three girls and two boys.  My father did not have enough money to pay school fees for all his children, so he only managed to send me to school.  My father saved a little money from his small cotton garden which he could sell for my school fees and for feeding our family.

I was chosen to be sent to school when my father had been inspired years earlier when he went for treatment from our village to Lira, a town forty miles away. While there he saw a female nurse who was very smart and she was giving treatment to sick people and he was impressed.  He never expected females to be nurses who could do that kind of work.

People in our village used to say that my father was not a real man for sending a girl to school instead of a boy.   In Lango tribe, (tribes in Lira district) girls were being kept at home to be trained with domestic house work preparing them to be married off.  My father then told the other villagers, “I saw potential in her.  I know she will take care of her brothers, sisters and people around her.”

In school, I was very active in class and in field of athletics too.  Later, Uganda Olympic Solidarity gave me a two year scholarship to study at Mainz University in Germany.  I obtained my diploma in Education and Sports Sciences.




During my career in the Ugandan Police Force I worked in various sections: Traffic, Police 99 Patrol, Interpol Narcotics Drugs, Criminal Investigations,  Juvenile Court  (as a court prosecutor), and later as an Administrator at the Police  Headquarter  in Kampala.

During that time, police stations only had two cells for detaining male and female suspects.  Male young offenders (Juveniles) used to be detained in the same cells with adult male/female suspects.  These adult suspects were abusing the children in police custody.  Police were not aware that children were being abused or harassed in custody as the children were warned not to say anything.

I learned of the abuse during my time as a Court Prosecutor in Juvenile Court when children in conflict with the law (boys) told me how adult suspects in the cells would abuse them.

In early 1994, while as an Administrator, I knew this was not right.   I risked my position by keeping the children overnight in the same house with me in the police barracks (in a sitting room). The children were 12 years – 14 years and I needed to protect them from further abuse by hardened criminals in police cells.
I used to feed and buy clothes for them with the small amount of money I made as an officer at that time. Some of these young criminals were not considerate that I was protecting them, and would steal my things and run away.

Despite bad things that some children did, I never gave up.  I had a supervisor named David Tingle, Chief Inspector of the Uganda Police Advisory from the United Kingdom.  Tingle was my immediate boss and it was with him that I shared my ordeal and my plan of getting a free room within the police station where young offenders could be protected from sharing the same cells with hardened criminals.  I used the Ugandan Constitution and Uganda Children’s Act which says that a child is a person under the age of 18 and entitled to protection.

Later, Chief Inspector David Tingle met with the Police Chief (Inspector General of Police) at the Police Headquarters in Kampala about the subject matter. The Chief gave the go ahead for my plan.




In 1995 I started the new unit, called the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU), in an office with one table and two chairs.  I recruited other officers to work with me.  We handled cases of violence against women and children in the police barracks and nearby community.  We had many cases to investigate in the community but without any transportation these investigations in the field took a long time.

We raised community awareness about the rights of women and children, and taught crime prevention tips to children in nearby schools.  Over time the CFPU became so popular that we had to expand.  I sought funding from UNICEF and “Save the Children” in Kampala to train more police officers to work in the CFPU within the Uganda Police Force.  

To our surprise, UNICEF funded training for 120  police women and men.  These officers were trained in human rights, counseling, investigation, the protection of women and children, as well as interview techniques for young survivors and suspects.  These officers were posted to police stations all over Uganda to handle cases of violence against women/children and were made aware of the importance of separating “children in conflict with the law” from adults while in custody.

With more funding from “Save the Children” we were able to train more police officers to join the CFPU.  UNICEF provided us with a motor vehicle to oversee the work of police officers within the CFPU located throughout Uganda, as well as motorcycles and bicycles for officers to use in the field.

I requested donations to help us build special rooms at police stations for detaining “children in conflict with the law.”  UNICEF and other donors gave support to build separate rooms for these children within five police stations: Masaka Police Station in Southern Uganda, Gulu in Northern Uganda, Kumi in Eastern Uganda and the Central Police Station in Central Kampala, all stations with the highest crime rate committed by children.  

In 1997 I was recognized by the International Association of Women Police (IAWP)
in Dallas, Texas and received the International Scholarship Award.  This was for my
initiative in creating the CFPU within the Uganda Police Force.  This same year I was
awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Inspector of the Uganda Police Force
as Police Woman of the Year.

I am proud to say that the unit that I started with one table and two chairs is now wide spread in all police stations in Uganda, with officers skilled in handling cases of violence against women and children.

So that is how I stated the CFPU within the Uganda Police Force.



Following the development of the CFPU, I saw a need for the creation of a shelter for women and children.


As a result of the Sudan Civil War, the presence of insurgents had been felt in the Lira District- Northern Uganda for over twenty years.  Sudanese and Ugandan people were forced into Internally Displaced Person (IDP) Camps, where women and children were vulnerable to abuse.   Rape, child sexual abuse and domestic violence against women and children were rampant.

Upon visiting IDP camps, I met over 50 female survivors of sexual abuse who told me their   moving, sad stories. These stories touched my heart and inspired me to find a secret, hidden house where survivors of abuse could take refugee and nurse their injuries.

Many of the children born in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps experienced the death of their parents due to armed conflict with rebels and / or as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Without their parents’ family history or connection to their home villages, the orphans had no where to go.  Due to sexual exploitation of female orphans, aged 12–15 years, many became young mothers. Some of these children were taken to the shelter.

With nowhere to go, others survived by working as child sex workers, living on the streets in the Lira District.  Many of these children became young mothers.    I felt that the best way to protect these children was to build a shelter.


In 2003 I brought together fifty female survivors of abuse who helped fund raise by collecting dry foods to support female survivors at the Shelter.

By the time I retired from the Uganda Police Force, I had in place a better Shelter which included a perimeter wall. I registered the shelter with the Lira Non Governmental Organization (NGO) and the local Lira Government.  I contacted the International Association of Women Police to give us support so that we could get a permanent building for the Shelter. 


The majority of women and girls brought to the shelter for protection are female survivors of: 

• Domestic violence
• Children victims of  sexual abuse
• Under aged female (age 13-15 years) survivors  of forced marriages
• Child labor
• Orphans
• Rescued children from traffickers
• Potential victims  (girl child) of Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM)
• Survivors of Fistula

Since 2003 more than four thousand women and child survivors of abuse have passed through this Shelter.  There were 40 serious cases of Fistula, the youngest survivor was four years.  There were over 60 young mothers (13-15 years) who had been raped by unknown men. With support from the UN Women and Children’s Fund, many of these women and children received medical treatment.


The Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Transit Shelter (LIRWOCDI) is the only shelter of its kind in the Lira District. My dream is to offer vulnerable orphans who are single young mothers vocational life skills training so that they can be self reliant in the community. We do not yet have the funding for training for these young mothers, but hope to receive this funding in the future.

This is how I started the Survivors’ Shelter in the Lira District, Northern Uganda (http://www.hellens-shelter.org.uk)

On August 25, 2011 I initiated the first ever Town Hall Meeting, inviting district officials from Lira.


In Uganda, survivors of “rape and defilement” must be examined by a police surgeon (medical doctor) who looks for forensic evidence to support the allegation of abuse.  This expert evidence/opinion must show proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a woman/girl has been sexually abused, beaten or maimed to support the case in court.

Unfortunately some women in the Lira District who have been sexually abused do not receive justice because police surgeons do not examine a victim for free. The role of the police surgeon is not to treat, but to examine victims and to classify their injuries for court evidence only.  Poor women who cannot pay the police surgeon’s fee must then suffer in silence.  They have no hope of justice.

As a result of this injustice, I mobilized the local grass root Community Base Organizations (CBOs) in Lira District. I spear headed the first ever Town Hall  Meeting where district officials and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) attended to discuss problems around helping women survivors of sexual and gender based violence  (SGBV). My objective was to make the district officials aware of this injustice to women survivors of abuse who cannot pay the Police Surgeon’s fee.  Another objective was to highlight the hypocrisy of the fact that perpetrators who are arrested are examined freely by the same police surgeon and given treatment when necessary. 

The themes of the Town Hall Meeting were:

“Lira Leads in Sexual and Gender Based Violence.”
“What are you doing to the lives of our Children and Mothers?”

The Mayor of the Lira Municipality was the Guest of Honor at this meeting.  Over 200 people attended that meeting. We wanted the Mayor to hear for himself the extent of the problems facing female survivors of abuse in his jurisdiction. 


In conclusion, I have accomplished four major undertakings in Uganda while trying to create positive change in the lives of vulnerable women and children in Uganda.

1. I was the pioneer in the development of the first ever Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU) in the Uganda Police Force.

2. I created the Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Transit Shelter (LIRWOCDI, where survivors of abuse can take refugee while nursing injuries inflicted on them by perpetrators, seek counseling and guidance.  This is the first ever shelter of its kind in Lira District – Northern Uganda.

3. In 1997 I was the first Woman Police Officer in Africa to be recognized by the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) for establishing the CFPU. This same year I was awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Inspector of the Uganda Police Force as Police Woman of the Year. I was the first Regional Coordinator for Women Police in Africa for the IAWP.

4. On August 25, 2011 I spear headed the first ever Town Hall Meeting with government officials and the public in District of Lira, Northern Uganda.


Hellen Alyek
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