Success Story from Uganda: Cinderella Anena Supports Peace Initiatives, Gender Equity, and Reproductive Health

Cinderella Anena was born in 1991 and grew up in Kitgum district, Northern Uganda. She was a lively and inquisitive child who excelled at school and enjoyed playing outdoors. At the age of 12 Cinderella became active in Peace Clubs, which were a popular means through which primary school children could advocate for the rights of young people affected by the anti-government Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA’s) violent activities. Cinderella used poetry, creative writing, and performances at conferences, meetings, and, in 2003, a Northern Peace Fete, to educate about the plight of children during the LRA insurgency.

As a secondary school student at Our Lady of Good Counsel, in Gayaza Ms. Anena was one of six students that served on a Peer Mediation Steering Committee which organized peace activities through a Peer Mediation Club supported by Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, the New Vision. When Ms. Anena was still in secondary school and only 15 years old, her mother, a single parent, passed away. Fortunately, Ms. Anena had already been recognized as exceptionally bright, but economically disadvantaged and was receiving financial support in the form of a scholarship from the United States’ Ambassadors’ Girls’ Scholarship Programme which was managed by the Uganda chapter of the Forum for African Women Educationalists.

Upon completing her undergraduate degree at Makerere University, and while working with the Refugee Law Project, Ms. Anena volunteered and joined the fundraising drive for the Irene Gleeson Foundation maternal health project. Ms. Gleeson was an Australian grandmother, philanthropist, missionary, and orphan, who became an active supporter of nearly 8,000 children negatively impacted by the LRA in Kitgum district, Ms. Anena’s home area. When Ms. Gleeson died of cancer in mid-2013, Ms. Anena wrote a story about Ms. Gleeson for In2EastAfrica, a regional news organization. Inspired by Ms. Gleeson’s selflessness and resilience and the servant leadership of John Paul Kiffasi, Ms. Anena participated in a charity walk in memory of Mama Irene, to walk in her footsteps and raise funds towards the completion of one of her projects, a women’s hospital.

In an effort to leave her own legacy, while still an undergraduate, Ms. Anena, together with some of her friends co–founded a non-profit social movement called the Young Acholi Girls’ Initiative (YAGI). YAGI leaders serve as mentors and role models for fellow youths who share similar experiences of war. By reaching out to disadvantaged communities in post-conflict northern Uganda, they offer inspiration to young girls to stay in school and achieve their full potential. In 2014, Ms. Anena completed her undergraduate degree with first class honours in Social Work and Social Administration at Makerere, one of Uganda’s most prestigious universities.

Over the past three years, Ms. Anena has worked with international and national Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and research institutions including the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) at Georgetown University, Adroit Consult International, and the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University’s School of Law. Ms. Anena supports research, programming, and communications in the Uganda field offices for several IRH development projects including: Gender Roles, Equality and Transformation (GREAT), Fertility Awareness for Community Transformation (FACT), and Responsible, Engaged and Loving (REAL) Fathers, which she also supported with a post on the IRH’s blog.

In 2015, Cinderella received two major international awards. The first was the prestigious and highly competitive Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. Ms. Anena was one of 19 fellows selected from Uganda and one of 500 from across sub-Saharan Africa. At 24 years old, she was one of the youngest.

Ms. Anena was one of 25 Mandela Washington Fellows hosted by universities in the “Presidential Precinct” that focus on Civic Leadership and include the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary. While completing the rigorous six-week Civic Leadership program Ms. Anena appeared on: the Voice of America, NBC 29 news, and the University of Virginia’s WTJU radio station. On these programs she described her work in her community including her advocacy for peace and gender equality for men’s and women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. She also worked with the Presidential Precinct to create a blog (both text and video) about her life changing experience as a Mandela Washington Fellow.

Cinderella Anena was also awarded a highly competitive Commonwealth Scholarship by the UK Government. She is currently using her award to pursue a Master’s Degree in Global Development and Gender at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Ms. Cinderella Anena been so successful in her undertakings?

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Ms. Anena strove for EXCELLENCE academically, even when facing many challenges. She COLLABORATED with friends to create YAGI while at Makerere University, in a quest to support causes she believes in.

Cinderella Anena is a SOCIAL MEDIA ENTHUSIAST who shares her PASSION for causes with others. She uses Facebook and twitter for social and political advocacy. One of her tweets in which she expressed a commitment towards the #LetGirlsLearn Initiative was retweeted by Michelle Obama and Barack Obama. Ms. Anena is an occasional blogger. Her articles on maternal health, women’s participation, youth empowerment, corruption, and sexual and reproductive health have been featured on In2EastAfrica, Action for Development, 24Tanzania, in The East African, and twice in New Vision.

Upon the completion of her Master’s Degree, Ms. Anena intends to support gender equity in Uganda through initiatives that address menstruation, its hygiene, and management. Her INNOVATIVE programs will not only target girls, but also educate boys on menstruation matters to challenge taboos, myths, and prejudice. Her intent is to create a space for sexual and reproductive health rights to be addressed in schools as a means to retain female students, especially in rural areas. Ultimately, girls completing their education will help build stronger communities that reflect Ms. Anena’s and others’ ideals of equality and democracy.

By Heidi G. Frontani


  1. Nick Dedey · · Reply

    Bravo! You have already left a legacy for the upcoming generations….


  2. jenny anek · · Reply

    Am super proud of you my dear. You go girl….


  3. Good work Cindy, keep it up


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