In Africa, you can find classrooms, meetings, meals and just about anything happening under a tree. It is there that we met the two remarkable young people highlighted below…
After three days of travel in a row, we are now in Lira, Northern Uganda to visit two projects. We spent today visiting beneficiaries of our Honey Farmer Project at their homes. The members of this cooperative are all people who have been affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony. Some were child soldiers, girls forced to be soldier wives, children of those girls, children orphaned by the LRA and some adults who were also abducted and traumatized by the LRA.
This part of Uganda is very different from the others we have visited earlier in the trip. The land is more flat, the temperature much hotter and the languages spoken are completely different. Most people in the villages are living in traditional huts shaded by shea nut and mango trees, surrounded by vegetable gardens on quiet, sleepy dirt roads or paths. It’s very peaceful.
Sarah: She was held in captivity for 10 years, during which time she had three children. She is now 25 (although most people do not know their exact ages) and has 6 kids. She and her kids are living on the property of her parents, who are no longer alive. They, along with her brother, died while she was in captivity. She used money she made from the first harvest of honey to buy household items they needed and is hoping that the upcoming harvest in late June, along with her micro loan group will give her the financial security she needs to manage her household, so she can then focus on moving through the huge emotional scars she has from her stolen childhood.
Charles: He is one of the people we also visited last year and is highlighted in the film that was made about our projects by Sherwood Films. Charles is 17. He has been raising his four younger brothers since he was 11 years old. He is also in school, tending their small farm and honey farming. Their parents were abducted by the LRA and returned with severe mental illness, unable to take care of them at all. What has changed since our visit last year is that all of the brothers are now in school, thanks to our partner Children of Peace Uganda. Their mother finally agreed to go to the hospital for mental illness a couple of weeks ago, too. During our last visit, Charles told us that the only food they had to eat was cabbage, but today that was not the case. If all of this were not enough to make him the most impressive teen in the world, he went back to school during the last part of the year, after being out for three years and passed his exams with flying colors, although many students who had been there are year failed to pass! Charles says he wants to be a doctor and I believe he will do just that.
We visited a couple others, too, and we also met with one of the micro loan groups where we bumped in Grace, who we met last year. Her husband was killed by the LRA and one of her 6 children was abducted, never to be seen again. She had a mental breakdown and, at one time, was so bad that her children were tying her to a tree to prevent her from wandering off. I was thrilled to find her as part of her community, finding a way to move forward with her life, no longer isolated and uncommunicative.
There are so many people, young and old, in this area that bear deep wounds, both mental and physical from the unthinkable cruelty of Joseph Kony and his commanders; tortured, families torn apart, villages destroyed, yet people somehow survive. This is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. It is heartbreaking to know these people, but it is an inspiration and a reminder that I must appreciate everything.