Northern Uganda: From Horror to Hope
For nearly 20 years, the rebel group known as the LRA has conducted a campaign of murder and mutilation across northern Uganda. The conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government has killed tens of thousands and displaced two million others. Perhaps even worse, the cultlike LRA has abducted some 30,000 children and forced them to serve as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. Many have been made to kill their own relatives and torch their own villages.
When the LRA swept through Molly’s village in 2003, she knew she had to flee. She and her siblings, joining a terrified stream of people, escaped as their village was set afire and their families kidnapped or killed.
After running into Ugandan soldiers, Molly and her fellow villagers were herded into a congested camp set up by the government. Though she was told she would be there only a short time, she spent years in the squalid, disease-ridden camp.
"It was especially difficult for us to cope with no parents and not enough to eat," Molly recalls. "My brother was always sick. I had to beg for food and sell peanuts in bars. I saw terrible things. Girls my age had sex in exchange for food to feed their families."
It was at Aloi Camp that Molly met Joyce Wanican. Wanican helps manage an IRC program that aids children who, like Molly, have been driven from their homes, terrorized or exploited as child laborers.
"The suffering they have experienced is beyond comprehension," says Wanican. "So many are living with such memories, and they have no one to turn to and no hope."
Wanican tries to restore hope by helping children go back to school or learn a trade. Her IRC team provides books, supplies and school fees as well as materials for teachers. They also support local institutions that teach trades like bricklaying, welding and tailoring. So far, nearly 6,000 displaced children have benefited from the IRC’s program.
"We’re adding value and meaning to the lives of these young people," says Wanican. "They are now students, builders and designers as opposed to beggars, child soldiers and child mothers. They have come out of hiding and stand up strong."
Last summer, Molly, now 17, graduated from a tailoring course and started a small clothing business. "Everything is different now," Molly says. "I walk in the marketplace and people respect me. And with my profits, I can afford to send my brother to school."
Recently, Molly and her brothers and sisters have seen another dream come true: they have gone home to their village. In August 2006, the LRA and the government agreed to a truce that has made it safe for some displaced people to return to their war-devastated communities. In Molly’s village there is no clean water, no doctor, no services of any kind. But she’s happy to be back, planting corn and cassava, constructing a new hut and starting her life over again.