It fuels you

Some of the beautiful Imani women

Some of the beautiful Imani women

Justina's  beadwork

Justina’s beadwork

It is hard to imagine that a world filled with so much color could harbor so much pain.  But that is the world in which many young women and girls in Uganda have found themselves. They are slaves. And their plight is tragic and heartbreaking.

Today throughout the world there are 27 million slaves — more than at any point in human history — and over 50 percent are children who are exploited in the most gruesome ways imaginable.

  • Of the 300,000 child soldiers around the world, 120,000 are estimated to be girls
  • 10 million children worldwide are engaged in some facet of the sex industry
  • Each year at least one million children, mostly girls, become prostitutes
  • The average age of victims is 11-14
  • Girls as young as 13 are peddling their bodies for as low as $1 per act in Gulu, [Uganda].*

Rescuing these women and helping them to escape and build new lives is the mission of the Zion Project. If you follow this blog, you’ll recognize the name. The Zion Project was founded in 2006 by JMU alumna Sarita Hartz Hendrickson, one of our Be the Changers.

Beginning last September, while Sarita returned stateside to build support and awareness for the the project, Brittany Dunay (’12) , a psychology graduate of JMU, stepped into her shoes as in-country director.

We learned about  Brittany recently when Victoria Dickens (’13) nominated her for Be the Change. Victoria wrote of her friend: “She is an in-country director in Africa for the Zion Project, which provides counseling and real jobs for women and children who have been rescued from human and sex trafficking situations. She gets to help these victims feel cherished and gives them a future with hope.”

Jolly, Brittany and Lucy showing off their chitenges, a garment similar to a sarong (photo by Vero)

Jolly, Brittany and Lucy showing off their chitenges, a garment similar to a sarong (photo by Vero)

Colorful varnished beads drying in the African sun

Colorful varnished beads drying in the African sun

Recently, we caught up with Brittany who is now spending her last few weeks in Uganda.

Brittany’s decision to live and work in Uganda began last spring when her psychology professor, Dr. Bill Evans, showed her class a video of about the Zion Project.

“At that point I had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated in May,” Brittany writes. “While viewing this video my heart was captivated and a fire was stirring up inside of me. My heart was breaking for women and girls I only knew through a video screen. I knew right then and there the Lord was calling me to serve him in this way.”

Motivated by her deep faith, Brittany traveled to Uganda and stepped into the role of director. “The problem these women and girls face is as big as the holes in their hearts. After  being abandoned, trafficked, tricked, used, and devalued, they are in dire need of healing from the pain,” she explains.

Some of the girls hanging out in the kitchen

Some of the girls hanging out in the kitchen

The Zion Project, a Christian ministry, provides the girls and women with a safe home and an occupation that bolsters rather than tears down their self-worth.

“After the girls were rescued from a life of danger and being swept into the sex trade, [they are] given a loving and safe home. The women are given an occupation that doesn’t involve selling their bodies,” she writes. “They all need healing. They all need to know what their true identify in Christ is and that they are valued. It is important to address this need because without healing, they would live the rest of their lives in pain, hurt and believing lies about themselves. During and after they are healed, they are able to live their lives in truth and freedom. They are then able to walk in wholeness and can reach out to others who are struggling with the same hurt they once knew.”

Brittany has watched them change. She has seen the hearts of the Ugandan girls transformed through the ministry, and she has seen transformation in her staff as well: “One of my favorite parts is having one-on-ones with the staff weekly. Watching the Lord work in the lives of these women in incredible, and knowing they are the ones leading this ministry is moving.”

Nail time a the girls home (photo by Jacky, Zion Project social worker)

Nail time a the girls home (photo by Jacky, Zion Project social worker)

It has not been an easy journey for Brittany, but it has been rich and rewarding. One challenge has been the language barrier. Although all of the staff and girls speak English, most understand only bits and pieces, she writes. “It was frustrating and challenging at first, but I’ve learned how to communicate beyond words…and learning a bit of Swahili has helped.”

Brittany defines “being the change” simply: “Love. If you want to change something outside of yourself, you need to love. In order for you to fully sacrifice yourself for others, you need to love them. Zion Project has taught me how to stop for the one. If I did not love the women staff, girls and locals in Uganda, I would guarantee you I would have cut my trip early. This serving challenges you. When I thought of sacrificing before [I went], I would think that I’d be left with little to give. After working with Zion Project, I learned that the more love you give, the more love you receive. It fuels you.”

And it changes you, Brittany writes: “I have been most surprised at the amount of personal seasons my 10-month experience holds. I have  been growing at the speed of light in many unexpected ways.”

Brittany will return to the United States next month. The psychology graduate from Ashburn, Va., is eager to see her family. She’s number three out of six siblings who have supported her during her time in Africa. But the Brittany who’ll return isn’t the same one who left. Her year abroad has changed her as well as the women and girls of Uganda.

And they are all changed for the better.

*from the Zion Projects website:

And to read more about Sarita Hartz Hendrickson and the Zion Project, click the embedded link to read Elizabeth Holena’s (’07) story.

Update: In the comment section, you’ll read a note from Rachel Dawson (’13) about a similar story she wrote on Brittany and Sarita. Check it out here (go to page 8):

Unless otherwise indicated, photos were taken by Brittany Dunay (’12).


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

2 Responses to It fuels you

  1. grahammb says:

    Nice story, Rachel. I’ll add this link to the body of the blog story. Thanks so much for the heads up. Btw, all of Curio looks great!!! (And, I see, we liked the same pictures!)


  2. I also wrote a feature story on Brittany Dunay and Sarita Hartz Hendricksen for a student-run magazine in the School of Media Arts and Design this semester, check it out online at! Thanks.


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