Northern Uganda was terrorized from 1988 until 2006 by Joseph Kony and his LRA army. Most people already know that he used kidnapped children to build his numbers and many of those children, some now grown up, either escaped or are rescued and have to find a way to restart their lives. Currently, the LRA is not acting in Uganda, but those taken from northern Uganda are still returning from countries like South Sudan, DRC and CAR where the LRA continues to terrorize.
We are here in Lira to meet with a new partner, Children of Peace Uganda, to see what kind of income generating project we can implement together to help prepare some of the older child soldiers to have futures where they can have skills and careers that do not take them away from where they came from. Jane, who runs the organization, is a beautiful woman that really understands what the needs are to stabilize, rehabilitate and then restart the lives of these horribly traumatized young people.
This morning we visited a tilapia fish farm, built by Children of Peace with a grant from our good friends at Go Campaign and some help from the government. It is a truly impressive project. While there, we met a twenty year old young man, who was in captivity for five years, starting at age 6. He says that he survived captivity by being Kony’s favorite singer and dancer. He is now back in school, thanks to a scholarship, and is working as the full time fish keeper at the fish farm. He feeds them 3 times a day and is responsible for clearing new grasses that grow inside of the ponds.
Our next stop was the Barlonyo Memorial. It sits in the location where the LRA slaughtered 301 people inside of an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons, meaning refugees within one’s own country) camp, with 580 still missing, either dead or kidnapped. A man that was there at the time of the attack was kind enough to tell us the story of Barlonyo. Standing amongst the mass graves and the plaque today, in this peaceful and idyllic in this village, it is impossible to imagine the chaos and misery that took place there.
This afternoon, we went to the school where 41 kids from Children of Peace are students. There are four categories, which make up the group; those who were abducted and forced into being child soldiers, those who were abducted and forced into being “wives” of soldiers, those who were born into captivity by mothers who were themselves abducted, and those who lost one or both parents in the conflict. They gave us a wonderful welcome, performing songs and a poem and they demonstrated the kind of games they play as part of their psycho-socio therapy. Looking at their faces, at their eyes, it is unthinkable to imagine what they have been through and the horrors they have endured. Standing before us, they are just kids…
The plan now is to work with the staff and board of Children of Peace Uganda to construct a plan on what we can do together. We will be working with some of the older youths who are part of the group (there are over 400 kids) in some kind of project to train them for their futures in income generation. I am really looking forward to coming back to Lira next time to see what has been accomplished.