Four year old Ivan is looking for a sponsor. He lives with his parents and brothers in an Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camp in Northern Uganda. The family moved to the relative safety of the camp after Ivan’s grandfather was beaten to death in December 2005 by the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, who also abducted some of Ivan’s relatives.
Ivan is just one of the 400,000 people whose lives were blighted by the conflict which raged in Northern Uganda from the early 1980s until a fragile ceasefire came into being in 2006. The conflict was between the Ugandan government and the rebels of the LRA, a group who were prepared to be extremely brutal in pursuance of their aims.
The LRA have a reputation for maiming victims cruelly, cutting off ears, noses and lips. They regularly abducted children from the villages, training the boys to become soldiers and forcing the girls to become sex slaves. The problem became so acute during the conflict that, in areas where the LRA was most active, hordes of children routinely left their homes each night and walked for several miles to sleep in the bush, in hiding.
People who sought the protection offered by the IDP camps also found life hard. They may have been relatively safe from the LRA, but they were also unable to tend their lands, plant their crops, or work.
In 2006, there was a cessation of hostilities and people have begun to move out of the camps and back to their homes. However, in a country devastated by 23 years of war, there is still an urgent need for humanitarian help. Many are very vulnerable – the elderly whose families have been killed are left with no-one to look after them, women are widowed and left to fend for themselves and their families. And as always, children suffer badly.
Some children are returning to “normal” life after having been forced into the conflict. The LRA took boys as young as eight years old from their homes and trained them as soldiers. Robbing them of their childhoods, LRA leader, Joseph Kony said, “There are no children here, only combatants”.
Grown men and women who have been involved in conflicts will tell you that it affects them, psychologically. They often have problems fitting in with family and civilian friends, and find adjusting to normality difficult.
For children, without the maturity and life experience to even try to make sense of what has happened to them, the return is even harder. They cannot play, or mix with other children, or even go to school until they have been counselled and rehabilitated. The same is true of the girls, who were repeatedly raped by the rebels.
World In Need’s representative in Northern Uganda cares for some of these children. He takes them into his own home and loves them, helping them begin the long process of healing. Through World In Need, sponsors are found for the children, and the money they give is used to pay for counselling and rehabilitation until the children are ready to resume their childhoods and their educations and find hope for their future once more.