‘It was during this period that I started to feel that peace was where I wanted to concentrate my future efforts.’
Of all the projects that the family foundation, The Charitable Foundation, has done the one that has moved me the most is the work we did on rehabilitating child soldiers captured by the LRA.
I have never come across a group as evil as the LRA, they are worse than Islamic State. They basically capture children, mainly boys aged between seven and ten, by raiding their villages. Any child that cries or refuses to obey them is beaten to death. They do this by forcing the children who they have just captured to beat the children to death, otherwise they would be beaten to death as well. After a short period of time, say one year, they would raid the village where the children had come from, forcing them to kill someone in the village, sometimes their own parents. This effectively meant there was no escape route for them, no house they can go back to. Their new home was the LRA. You can imagine how brutal it would be to live within this organisation.
The project we were involved in was about helping the kids once they had left the LRA to resettle back into society. Some of the kids would escape, while others were captured by the Ugandan army. Escaping was not easy, if they thought someone was trying to escape they would kill them.
The project fixed them up physically, gave them trauma counselling, although there was not a lot that could be done for many as the trauma was too deep. The project also gave them some provisions, trying to relocate them back to their villages, but in some cases this couldn’t be done because of the violence they had previously done in these villages. In these circumstances we would locate them to wherever we could and away from where the LRA was active.
It was during this period that I started to feel that peace was where I wanted to concentrate my future efforts. There was something so confronting about this war that it touched the very fibers of my heart, raising the question of how can war be avoided.
Two ex-child soldiers, both suffering from post-traumatic stress.
If you look carefully you can see the head wounds on this boy below. He was made to stand guard by climbing into a tree to look out for government troops. At some point he came down to pee but the LRA thought he was trying to escape. They beat him within an inch of his life, forced him back into the tree which he then fell from. At about this time government troops arrived. Found the boy on the ground and were able to rescue him. He died some three months after the photo was taken from brain injuries.
For this child, we do not know his name, the age of the child nor who the parents were. The child was strapped to the mothers back when she was caught in a fight with the government and the mother dropped the child on the battlefield where he was recovered by the Ugandan army.
The Ugandan army used to negotiate with the LRA commanders to surrender. The commander below surrendered with about 80 men. They were then taken into the Ugandan army and re-educated. The photo below shows the commander with four of his wives. The commander’s wives were the ones who often administered discipline in the LRA camps.
One remarkable woman I met in Northern Uganda was Irene Gleeson, who set up a school and medical centre. She remained right through the worst of the crisis overseeing her school and health clinic. The kids in the school were so happy.
One of the projects that Irene did really moved me. She built a dormitory to house people dying of aids and a morgue nearby. I spoke to a man in the dormitory who was in the later stages of dying. He said I am in much pain but being here in this building, so clean and bright it makes me happy. So many times in Africa I have been blown away by the positive nature and humour of Africans.
Probably one of the best insights into African humour is the morgue she had built. It was titled ‘heavens express’, brightly coloured and out in the open and obvious for everyone to see. Hard to imagine this happening in the developed world.
As the war progressed and the countryside became more dangerous more people ended up in refugee camps. At its height about 2 million people lived in them. For every house you can see below an average of six people live in each.