Uganda – Unshakeable hope and faith
Salvation Army helps people returning to their villages
For 20 years, rebels known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have victimized the people of Northern Uganda, driving them out of their village homes into IDP (internally displaced persons) camps near larger towns. Thousands of people have been killed, and tens of thousands of children have been abducted. This tragedy is considered one of the world’s forgotten crises.
The situation improved briefly in 2006. The United Nations estimated that 230,000 IDPs returned to their villages, but at least 1.2 million more remained in camps or moved to settlements nearer their villages.
Damaris Frick, with The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services, recently wrote on his work in this central African country, once known as the “pearl of Africa.” Following are excerpts from his piece, “Uganda—A View from the Field.”
During the past four years The Salvation Army has undertaken several projects in 26 IDP camps that have focused on early childhood development centers, primary schools and a vocational training center. Now, the focus is on the recently inhabited villages.
My present role takes me into the camps every day. In one camp I met Alaba Molly, a 38-year-old mother of six. She told me about the day rebel soldiers came to her village on an early morning in June 2003. Most villagers had fled but the rebels killed 11 people and abducted 21 children. Only five have returned. The parents of the others have no idea if their children are alive, let alone where they are.
People like Molly in rural areas of Uganda live in isolation. Families have a few small huts surrounded by agricultural land, no neighbors in sight. In the event of a rebel attack people have little chance for help, which is why thousands live crammed into guarded camps.
Molly and her family have lived more than three years in a camp; they are now moving back to rebuild. Their huts were burned by the LRA.
My driver and translator, Jasper, escaped from the LRA after being held captive for three weeks in the bush.
What he witnessed, he said, has changed him forever. Other kidnapped children were forced to strike with sticks to death those who could not walk any more. They were commonly forced to kill other children, family members or friends in order to “bind” them to the group. He remembers other times the LRA forced parents to choose which one of their children to keep. The LRA not only took the other children but also killed the one in front of his parents.
Stories from this beautiful country are heartbreaking. But the people do not seem bitter. They are friendly and joyful and go about building new huts, even waving to passersby.
I believe we can learn a lot from their unshakeable hope and faith.
To help the work in Uganda, donate to the Africa Disaster Fund at www.salvationarmy.org.