I must admit, I was a bit unsure of what was going to transpire that afternoon when a group of boys and girls came to visit us while we waited inside a secondary school in Kamuda. They looked like an average group of teenagers: shy smiles, short glances in our direction, and nervous laughter. They did not appear like what I had imagined former child soldiers to look like.
As we listened to their stories, and then heard the songs and poems they had written while in the recovery centre, each volunteer in our group sat transfixed. We heard of the horrors that were inflicted upon them and were amazed at their resilience in retaining the goodness that existed in all of them. But in all of these stories that spoke of new found freedom and restoration there is one story that stood out the most.
A woman in our group asked the children: “If you were to meet Kony right now, what would you like to say to him?” A young boy stood up and without any hesitation replied, “I would ask Mr. Kony to come out of the bush and come and live with us, because I forgive him.”
The room went absolutely silent.
I remember almost gasping for breath trying to fathom how a boy could come to this high level of forgiveness. I put my hand in the air. “Charlie,” I stammered, “how can you say this?” And Charlie simply replied, “Because the Bible tells me to.”
I thought about what Charlie said for a long time. For many days matter of fact. And I came to a bit of an understanding. Charlie was forced to inflict unimaginable horrors on others and he begged for forgiveness. Perhaps he believed that if he could do something as immense as forgive Kony, then others would be able to forgive him. I don’t know if this is what Charlie believed. All I know is that I admired Charlie and I thought he would make an excellent leader in his village and perhaps in years down the way, in Uganda.
I remarked to Martin, the WV worker who oversaw the recovery centre, that I was very happy to see the smiling faces on these children and to hear their stories of newfound hope. Martin just beamed. He was proud of these children too.
With the spotlight on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army bringing the situation of child soldiers in Uganda and the Congo to everyone’s attention, I feel it very fitting to share some information about your child’s community with you.
The area in which your sponsored child is from was not immune to the terror and carnage that followed Kony in his misconstrued attempts to overthrow the Ugandan government. When Kony was unable to rally the support of his fellow Acholi tribesmen, he resorted to abducting children who were seen as ideally vulnerable and malleable for creating a subservient and vicious army. But I do not want to put Kony in the spotlight right now. Let’s focus on the children and families who have been affected by this “war”.
Over 1.6 million people were left homeless as Kony destroyed their villages as he ripped children from the arms of their mothers and fathers, forcing many of the children to kill their own parents. Villagers who survived were forced to move south and live in squalid and cramped displacement camps where they were highly susceptible to malnutrition, dehydration, and AIDS. When Kony moved his army to the Congo, people returned to their villages and worked to rebuild their lives.
And that’s when you came in.
With your support the basic necessities were provided: food, water, shelter, medical attention. Then the journey towards self sufficiency began: seedlings and livestock were provided to families. Schools were also built, using the work to earn principal World Vision strongly adheres to in the push to stimulate a community’s economy. Then a sense of normality began. But there was so much more to do.
Former child soldiers who managed to escape needed intense reintegration, rehabilitation and reconciliation. Many of these children found hope in the recovery centres in places like Gulu before they were reunited with any surviving family members. The reintegration process is long and requires many gentle and knowledgeable hands.
But it is possible.
While in the Soroti district during a WV Destination Life Change trip, I had the honour of meeting these children and hearing their hopes for their futures. I was never the same.
But I’ll tell you more about that next time.
I met this young man at the entrance to the World Vision office in Kamuda, when our Destination Life Change group visited Uganda back in 2008. He was employed by World Vision to guard the office, but with the exit of Kony and the LRA, his high risk job had now become a little, how shall I say it, easy.
It was a nice thing to see, a soldier at ease, with a smile on his face. I hope he never puts his gun to use ever again. So many wonderful things have happened since peace began to grow in Uganda.
Perhaps the guns will be put to a more productive use – melted down and hammered into plows for the fields and tools for building the schools and clinics and businesses.
I love this picture! I remember when I first walked by this scene of roadside flowers planted in discarded paint cans that my first reaction was one of admiration. In an attempt to beautify his front yard, a young Ugandan teacher had taken what was available and turned it into a thing of beauty. It reminded me of the resilience and fortitude of the people of Uganda. After 20+ years of living in fear of Joseph Kony and the L.R.A. and living in squalid and overcrowded Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps, the people of Uganda are determined to move forward and bring Uganda back to its former beauty.
You can’t help but admire these people.
I am a sentimental person who loves revisiting memories time and time again. Photos, trinkets, even a small rock found in a pocket placed there when the children were young, stir up many remembrances of what was.
Perhaps that’s why every spring I buy the same flowers at the nursery and every winter I try to keep these spring treasures alive in the company of my other house plants.
When I first saw these flowers it was in Uganda when I went there on a Destination Life Change trip in 2008. They were scattered everywhere. On the fields, by the roadways, dotting landscape with their bright pinks, oranges, and yellows, almost like miniature sunrises bursting from the green grasses. I was told they were common weeds, often uprooted and tossed aside to make way for more purposeful plants like beans, cassava and pineapple. I understood. Didn’t I do the same with the wild daisies and lamb’s quarters that grew in my garden back home in Canada?
So that is why when I saw these same flowers in a nursery at home I had to buy them.
But why the attachment to a common weed? Because it reminds me of all things Ugandan: The beautifulness of its people, so giving and filled with a happiness that is easily transmitted via smiles and strong embraces.
The durability and resistance of its families in their ability to stand up to their many adversaries: war, flood, drought, AIDS, and Kony.
And the colourfulness of Africa, from the brightly dressed women and children to the songs of greetings sang by the children that still play through my mind.
So yes, I am a sentimental person. But when I meet people who have such strong and fine qualities they make a lasting impression on me. And I want to always be able to hold onto, what is all things, Uganda.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.