Northern Uganda: Giving Thanks For A New Life
“Life in the camps was so terrible,” says Patrick, a 56-year-old farmer. “It was like we were living in a prison. We were so idle, there was literally nothing to do.”
Patrick had initially resisted moving his family to the nearby Labuje camp, which like most camps was overcrowded and offered few opportunities to residents. But after marauding rebels shot one of his sons dead, Patrick decided he had no viable choice but to relocate to Labuje and its 24-hour military protection.
The years in the camp were hard, but today Patrick has new reason to be optimistic. He is among an estimated 460,000 Ugandans who, following a 2006 ceasefire between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government, have left the camps in northern Uganda and returned home.
Patrick wouldn’t have gone back if the IRC hadn’t already restored his village’s water supply and medical center. “I’m very happy to be home because my family and I are now free, but it would be difficult to stay without services,” says Patrick. “Now, we get water from the well every day, and often use the health center, too.”
In addition to rehabilitating the local well and renovating and restocking the health center, the IRC also provided Patrick with tools to construct a new home. Families like his lost everything when they fled the fighting, so basic help to rebuild is essential.
Because of her age, The IRC also provided Patrick’s elderly mother, Auma Roda, with nails, bamboo poles, and a door, and helped organize community members to rebuild her house close to Patrick’s. “I wouldn’t have been able to make this hut on my own,” says Roda, laughing a little as she shows off her new home. “This house is better than the old one.”
The IRC is assisting countless individuals like Patrick and Roda in northern Uganda to return home and start anew by ensuring they are able to access essential services.
During the long-running war between the LRA and the government, “schools and health centers were looted and burned by rebels, houses were destroyed, and wells fell into disrepair,” says Charles Onyong, IRC’s protection officer in Kitgum. “The challenge now is restarting these services so that people can go home when they are ready.”
The IRC also works to mediate land disputes between returnees, while its Return Monitoring Volunteers track the number of people returning home and what services await them once they arrive there. This ensures the IRC can target its interventions for maximum impact and thereby help as many people as possible to leave the displacement camps and start afresh with support and hope.