"I Am Lucky to Have Survived"
When I was abducted by rebel soldiers at the age of 16 years, I was made to carry the wounded and other big loads that were not fit for my age. I would cry within my heart for fear of being killed, get tired since the march was very laborious, and had sleepless moments because of the severe pains all over my body.
New abductees were not allowed to drink water. Many perished and rotted like mushrooms. I am lucky to have survived.
I was not allowed to eat food for five days after I was abducted, yet had to carry heavy weapons. Many recruits died including my beloved brother, Otema.
On many occasions when we were escaping from the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) soldiers and gunship helicopters, I would knock my legs against stones and tree stumps and fall down with the patient I was carrying. Immediately the rebels would come and beat me with the barrels of guns and big sticks which have been put in fire. I felt partly dead and paralyzed in some parts of my body, like my hands, neck and chest.
I was made to be an attendant to the brigade commander. I was supposed to bathe him daily and this gave me a lot of burden because however much I bathed him he was never contented with my service. He would call for his bodyguards and instruct them to discipline me by severe caning.
At times we would enter ambushes laid by the UPDF, which killed many inexperienced abductees. Other abductees would throw down their baggage to escape from the bullets and the UPDF soldiers. We had been told that once you are caught by the UPDF, you are killed there and then. But once you throw away your baggage you face the death penalty when you reach the base. I have seen a number of my fellow abductees being brutally murdered for such acts.
I got involved with the International Rescue Committee's ORACLE project after I returned from captivity in the bush in 2003.
I had nobody to help me go back to school because my sister, who was paying my school fees, was killed the day I was abducted. The rebels used the new and young recruits to kill my sister. These were inexperienced children who used clubs to beat her ‘til death. So when I returned home I thought only of very bad things like hanging myself or joining the armed forces, since I had earlier bush experience.
I received a letter from the IRC saying that I am most wanted in the IRC Kitgum office to fill out a form for education sponsorship. Since I am somebody who likes studies so much, I said to myself, "‘My God, congratulations! Congratulations!"
After filling out the form, I was enrolled at a high school in Pader district. I forgot about joining the armed forces and I started concentrating on studies as a way forward for the betterment of my life.
The IRC supported me by paying school fees and giving me a school uniform, pens, pencils, books, and a mathematical set and ruler. When I sat for my exams I passed with first marks and I was the third best performer in the Pader district despite the atrocities I saw while in captivity.
Apollo works with the IRC in camps for Ugandans displaced by the conflict as a peer educator and HIV/AIDS counselor. He has been offered a place in a secondary school science program and plans to study biology, chemistry and mathematics. He says the IRC helped him overcome the trauma of his captivity and gave him hope and courage.
The IRC's ORACLE project, supported by the U.S. Department of Labor, protects children and young people from the exploitation of child labor by providing educational opportunities that help them meet their needs and goals.