A TOUGH GOING. Orphaned in Senior Three, Cinderella Anena, now 26 beat the odds. She is now a star to reckon with in Northern Uganda. She told Derrick Wandera about jumping the hurdles
When you lose your only breadwinner it takes courage for one to stand up again.
After the death of Lucy Aciro Bagonza, the mother of Cinderella Anena, it dawned on her that she had to quickly pick up her pieces and fend for the family of three.
Tracing her roots
Anena qualified for a United States Ambassador scholarship after scoring First Grade at Kitgum Public Primary School and joined Tororo Girls’ School. However, her mother passed on on 2006 while she was in Senior Three. She made it to Our Lady of Good Counsel Gayaza for A-Level but could not continue because of financial constraints following her mother’s death.
Anena did not give up. Under her relatives care, they could only afford fees at Kitgum Town College where she emerged the best in the district with 22 points at A-Level and second best in the northern region in 2009.
“I went to pursue a bachelor of Social Work and Social Administration on government sponsorship at Makerere University; a course I zeroed on with a passion to serve my community and society following the LRA war social injustices that it had been subjected to,” says Anena.
She is quick to share a childhood memory.
“I should have told you that, at 12 I wrote essays, recited poems and composed songs to highlight the disillusionment that the children were facing because of the [LRA] war. I remember reciting a poem on Women’s Day in 2003 that moved the crowd. The first Lady, who was the guest of honour mentioned that I was the future for the North. I realised that even as children, there was a role we could play in society,” recalls Anena.
After her bachelor’s degree, Anena joined the Young Acholi Girls Initiative, a group that connects girls with opportunities then worked for Adroid Consult International and Refugee Law Project as a development and research officer. It was during these stints that she thought of advancing her education.
“I applied for the Commonwealth Scholarship to study Global Development and Gender at University of Leeds in 2014,” she says. It is from there that she desired to work in her community.
“After my Master’s, I was fired up and I worked for Innovation to Poverty Action which is about social justice. So my love for society grew,” she recalls.
Mover of things
Then, Anena led a charity walk aimed to fundraise for the completion of Irene Gleeson maternity centre, which is named after an Australian philanthropist, who used to help in the rehabilitation of children and mothers affected by the LRA war.
The Irene Gleeson Foundation too, has seen more than 6,000 girls and children rehabilitated.
“Do you know that in Uganda, about 19 women die every day during childbirth? With this maternity centre complete, such problems could be reduced,” she assures.
Having done these stints Anena, she applied for the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship and she was among the 19 people chosen out of over 3,000 applicants. She pursued the civic leadership track.
Making it to Yale University
In January, Anena applied for Global Health Corps Fellowships, a US movement founded by Barbara Bush to empower the youth below 30, to go and reach out to communities with broken systems in society. This takes place in different countries such as Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda and USA.
“Out of 5,000 applicants, only 200 made it to the semifinals. I had applied for two positions at Reach out Mbuya, an organisation that reaches out to the HIV/Aids patients as research and development officer and to the ministry of Health as programmes officer.”
“Surprisingly, I went through for both positions after interviews. I have now been confirmed that, I’m one of the best and will work with the Reach Out Mbuya as the strategic development officer spearheading research, partnership development and resource mobilisation. We shall have leadership training at Yale University in New Haven USA,” notes Anena.
What inspired Cinderella Anena
Anena attributes her inspiration to her mother whom she describes as hardworking, compassionate and vigilant. She says most people who knew her mother say,
“ Whatever you do, just do it like your mother did.” “Being a district counsellor, my mother helped the victimised women and children in the community to bring equity and social justice.”
That was a stepping stone. “Irene Gleeson left her home in Australia to help children and women affected by war in Northern Uganda. At the time of her death in 2013, Mama Irene, had put up the first ever maternity ward in the Northern region but it had faced its demise due to her sudden death before its completion. This and many other stories have dictated my path in social work,” says the research and development consultant.