Uganda: Jolly Grace Okot

I know what it is like to walk through the bushes with grenades strapped to your waist.

— Jolly Grace Okot

Jolly Grace Okot (36) was born in Pader District in Uganda. She is the country director of Alliance for African Assistance (AAA). Since 2003, she has been involved in sport for peace and community development for children. By respecting and fulfilling children’s right to play, Jolly brings an element of normalcy to a community that has been ravaged by war for nearly two decades.

Jolly’s first and most terrible brush with the Lord’s Resistance Army occurred when she was 18 years old. On the way home from school one day, she and a friend were abducted into rebel ranks. This was both physically and emotionally traumatizing. She was often forced to demand money from neighbors and local merchants while armed with a rifle. She is among the few abductees who have managed to break free. Perhaps it was as a result of her troubled childhood that she started a program to promote the protection of children’s rights including their right to play. The AAA program focuses on the individual and emotional needs of children, which are often overlooked. The program allows all children into its playgroups regardless of their sex or background. Over a thousand children now play everyday in Gulu for at least two hours each day. Their laughter brings a smile to the faces of hundreds of on-lookers for whom the harsh reality is suspended for those brief moments. Jolly has gained access to top government officials and ministers. Thanks to her unwavering faith and persistence, she has managed to get a free plot of land to build a children’s center. She has risen above the adversity in her life to become a role model to many in her country and beyond. She attributes her rise from shame and trauma to faith, education and her interest in helping others.

Alliance of African Assistance (AAA)