Sue-Ann MacCara felt an overwhelming urge to meet Evelyn Apoko the first time she heard about her in 2010. This was before Evelyn, a former Ugandan child abductee, had made headlines for her escape from the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
“I just had to know someone like her — her story broke my heart and yet she was so strong,” says Sue-Ann, who lives in Vancouver with her family.
Sue-Ann, who lived during the Apartheid era in South Africa, describes herself as a “lion when it comes to injustice.” So part of the drive came from feeling compelled to “protect this parentless, beautiful fellow African,” she says.
Sue-Ann learned about Evelyn from the Strongheart Fellowship Program, which seeks to help young survivors of trauma heal and begin life anew. Sue-Ann began supporting this program after meeting another young African woman, Lovetta Conto, who had also touched Sue-Ann and her family deeply during a stay with them.
During one of her calls with Strongheart’s executive director Zoe Adams, Sue-Ann shared how much Lovetta had meant to her family. After hearing Evelyn’s story, Sue-Ann was instantly driven to meet her.
Sue-Ann’s family arranged for Evelyn to fly to Vancouver from the U.S., where she’d been living.
At that point Evelyn had not yet told her story publicly, though she has since spoken at the White House and elsewhere. But when she first came to Vancouver she was very shy, Sue-Ann recalls. Evelyn often held a handkerchief over the part of her face that had been blown off by a bomb during the three years she was a slave of the LRA.
Sue-Ann’s life philosophy is that if “each one can reach just one” the world can be transformed. “The power of one is like an atom bomb, it’s just huge, the ripple effect,” she says.
The connection between herself and Evelyn was just another confirmation that this philosophy holds true.
During her visit with Sue-Ann’s family in Vancouver, Evelyn accepted her first-ever opportunity to tell her story publicly. She first shared with a social justice class from the school Sue-Ann’s children attended and then with some friends of Sue-Ann.
Evelyn’s next public presentation was to the Canadian House of Commons and the Senate.
This opportunity came about by “happenstance.” Sue-Ann was volunteering in Downtown Eastside Vancouver with a program that helps find meaningful work for women involved in prostitution and with addictions. Senator Mobina Jaffer happened to visit the program’s operator, Mission Possible, while Sue-Ann was there. Sue-Ann ended up sharing Evelyn’s story and the senator, who is also from Uganda, urged Evelyn to retell her story in Parliament.
Sue-Ann and Evelyn went on to do this in late 2010. When it was her turn to present, Evelyn stood up and waved. She received a standing ovation from Canada’s politicians. Some of the parliamentarians have since blogged about their meeting with her. A few expressed their desire to support Evelyn in the future so she can realize any post-secondary education dreams she may have.
“She just broke their hearts right open,” Sue-Ann says.
Since that visit, Evelyn has returned to live in the U.S. She’s shared her story and stood up for peace in various public settings. This year she is one of four delegates travelling from the U.S. to Kenya to lay the groundwork for the Global Youth Peace Summit.
Sue-Ann, who stays in touch with Evelyn, describes her as someone who “will move mountains.”
As for Sue-Ann, both her own life and that of her family’s has been reshaped through their meeting with Evelyn.
“It was just crazy the connections that were made around this, connecting with the senator herself, the pathways that that took, all my children meeting Evelyn and just loving her and embracing her and the connections that that has led to – it was remarkable,” Sue-Ann says.
Again, for her, it all comes down to what’s possible when a person opens her heart and home.
“Nothing is impossible,” Sue-Ann says. “Everything is possible, if you’re open to it, if you surrender to it.”
To read a blog by Senator Mobina Jaffer on her meeting with Evelyn, click here.
To read a blog by Senator Grant Mitchell on his meeting with Evelyn, click here.
CNN published a piece describing Evelyn’s story. Click here to read it.
Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger
Editor’s Note: Click here to read about Axiom News’ partnership with Charles Holmes Consulting and the intent of the stories in this series.