Women’s Day 2019: Celebrating Ms. Anena Kevin Okumu

by Lucy Russell

My mom is my hero. After going to college and majoring in microfinance, she embarked on a lifetime of humanitarian work in order to improve her close knit community. She is a fiercely independent woman with unimaginable fortitude, raising two children as a single mother under demanding circumstances. She is employed as a social worker in order to send her children to receive the best education in a different city. Every decision she makes stems from a selfless desire to support everyone around her in whatever capacity she can. Whether that means paying for an orphaned student’s school tuition or making the most delicious meals for her children, she does it all. My mom isn’t from Raleigh, North Carolina. She is from the beautiful, vibrant community of Gulu, Uganda, where I interned this past May.

Kevin is my ‘Ugandan mom’ who serves as a loving parent figure and as an inspirational role model for young girls around the world. She is one of those people who just commands a room with her intelligent presence. Her poised nature demands respect, and you know she’s a woman who gets things accomplished. She’s a powerhouse unlike anyone I have ever met, and she is making strides to better her beloved Gulu.

We were able to witness this firsthand when we taught our lessons about women’s health together. While this topic suffers an enormous taboo in Northern Uganda, Kevin approached this challenge with her typical charismatic spirit. The first time we presented our lesson to a group of almost thirty middle-school aged girls, I was terrified. It was unchartered territory that I did not believe I was equipped to delve into. I started the lesson by questioning the group of girls… What is menstruation? Do you know what a period is?… to a quiet audience. No one said a word. It may have been because I looked like an outsider or because there was a slight language barrier. But Kevin immediately sensed my concern, jumped to my aid and got to the front of the classroom.

We stood together and told the girls about the first times we got our periods– experiences that every woman goes through, yet can still cause apprehension. By putting on a united front and showing the girls that it was okay to discuss and joke about these issues, we broke that taboo. We made it easier for the girls to feel comfortable talking with their friends, their mothers, their teachers, and even us about menstruation. We laughed at each other when we drew the diagrams of the female reproductive system, conveying the important knowledge in a relatable and humorous way. It is information that is crucial for ensuring that these women know how to manage their bodies. But it could be tricky to figure out exactly how to teach this to the women– Kevin was our secret weapon. It was a feeling of pride like no other to see her connect with each individual woman, making them feel comfortable talking about women’s health. She engaged the HCU students in a dynamic way and had them excitedly chanting about how they would stay in school despite their period cramps by the end of the lesson. They were enthralled with her personal story about how she had raised two children as a single mother while supporting herself financially and emotionally. She used the lessons she had learned in life to teach a younger generation about the importance of prioritizing education over all else. It was a touching moment to be able to witness.

The most powerful image I have is watching a 14 year old girl sitting in the very back row, hurriedly taking notes drawing the female reproductive system in order to help her memorize the information. It was our dream coming to life– our goal was to make an impact on just one girl’s schooling experience. If our message resonated with just one girl, it would have been an accomplishment. After watching the numerous earnest faces watch Kevin’s lesson, we knew it would go beyond just a single person. With girls as bright as the HCU students, they have the power to spread their knowledge beyond the classroom and into the surrounding communities. What an amazing gift that wouldn’t be possible without Kevin.

Kevin was not just a wonderful teaching partner, she was an incredible person to have stimulating conversations with. We spent many nights discussing gender equality, women’s rights, education, relationships, Gulu’s future, and more for hours on end. She is the most fascinating person I have met in my entire life. And it gives me so much gratitude to witness the impact she is making on HCU every day in Uganda. It can be difficult to be involved with an organization that is based on a different continent, but having someone as talented as Kevin in charge is so reassuring. Kevin took on the role of my mother when I was a new intern in Gulu, and she continues to serve as the mother guiding the HCU program. All of the students in HCU are her children, and she is their dedicated mother who passionately works to give them limitless opportunities in life. She is truly the heart and soul of the program, and it will continue to do amazing things with her direction.


I miss Kevin every day. Whether it’s seeing someone with big, colorful earrings or hearing my own mother’s encouraging words, I am reminded of her impeccable fashion sense and humble advice-giving. She remains a powerful presence in my life and the lives of everyone in Gulu, and we are all better because of it. Even though we are an ocean away, she continues to serve as a remarkable inspiration for what we can accomplish with our lives. Gulu is so lucky to have such a passionate, fearless woman leading their community forward. I feel blessed to be able to continue on this journey to lift up the women of Gulu with such an incredible role model. I love you Kev and can’t wait to see you again soon!!

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Kevin repping her Girls Are Awesome merch with pride.