In Northern Uganda, a civil war has been underway for 19 years between government and the Lord's Resistance Army, led by a man named Joseph Kony. More than 100 people each day die from the violence. About half of them are children. Those who are not killed may be kidnapped or maimed by rebel soldiers.
(Some viewers may find some images in the video disturbing)
Jennifer Anyayo is just like most teenagers. She loves to sing, dance, listen to music and hang out with friends. She says she like to dance, sleep and read books.
She loves TV, especially the American reality program, "American Idol."
But when some people see her face, they gasp in horror.
Seven years ago, at the age of nine, Jennifer was at home in Kitgum, Uganda, when rebels stormed her village and set fire to her hut. She was trapped inside. They told her not to come out. As she burned, she heard the soldiers laughing outside.
While Jennifer tries to forget the memories of that day -- the day her father was killed by rebels, the day her life changed forever -- the memories live on in her scarred face, her missing hand.
While doing peace work in Uganda, American reporter Carolyn Davis heard about Jennifer's plight and went to find her. Ms. Davis wrote a series of news articles about her in 'The Philadelphia Inquirer' newspaper. The public response was immediate. Donations from more than 700 people raised enough money to get Jennifer a flight to the U.S.
Abitimo Odonkara is a native Ugandan who fled to America in the 1970s to escape violence at home. She has been acting as Jennifer's guardian since the girl arrived in January. "She didn't know how to write or read and I thought, while she is waiting to see what her fate is, regarding the accident, she should be doing something."
And Jennifer's friends were doing something -- finding a plastic surgeon and hospital that would try to mitigate Jennifer's scarring, for free.
Dr. Craig Dufresne and iNova Hospital, just outside Washington D.C., agreed to help. "We all try to show compassion towards our fellow man, and this is a young child caught in a situation that she had, really, no hand in creating," he said, "and if there is something that I can do to soften her wounds or take away some of her scars, I will do."
Jennifer underwent her first surgery in January. Dr. Dufresne cut open her scalp and inserted saline balloons to expand the skin. He explains the procedure. “What that's going to allow me to do is bring her hairline forward to where it should be. She's always going to have scars, because of the extent of her burns, but what we're trying to do is to minimize those."
As Abitimo and Carolyn carry on like the worried mothers they have become, Jennifer says little.
Jennifer was asked if she wanted the men who did this to be punished. She replied by shaking her head no.
She says that if someone does something bad to you, you should not do something bad to him or her. She is asked about that day, but she says she doesn’t remember.
She is also asked what she wants to be when she grows up and she says, 'a lawyer,' because she can make a lot of money.
While Jennifer can be shy, there is no doubt she is a teenager. Expressing her independence, she says "I like to cook but I don't like it when people tell me to cook. I like to get up and do it myself, without someone telling me, do this, do that."
Abitimo cautions feeling sorry for Jennifer, “I think feeling sorry is like sympathizing with her situation, and trying to offer. She doesn't mind that, but she doesn't want people to think that she has limitations because of one hand and, you know (motions to her face)."
Recently, Jennifer moved in with a new family outside of Washington to be closer to the hospital.
In a routine checkup, Dr. Dufresne examines her progress. “I'd like to be able to work on getting more scalp. I'd like to work on building up the bridge of her nose. I'd like to stretch more skin so we can work more of this cheek scar out. So we got a lot done. I think we can do a little bit more. We certainly helped her eyelids, we certainly helped her cheek and her facial areas, so we did quite a bit."
He asks Jennifer, "Are you happy?" Jennifer seems happy.
Doctor Dufresne is ready to perform more surgeries on Jennifer, to rebuild her nose and improve her facial scars. But first, the hospital must agree to pay. So Jennifer waits, her fate in their hands.
If the hospital cannot pay for more operations, money from a fund set up by the Philadelphia Inquirer will go towards it. If any is left over, it will be used to support Jennifer and her family and to educate war-affected children in Uganda.