The past few days have been incredible. On Saturday, we left Kampala for Northern Uganda, to begin the next phase of the trip. While in Northern Uganda, we are travelling through communities that were ravaged by the civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), largely in Acholi-land.
Our first stop was at the Akobe Girl’s School, which was the site of a terrible event that finally brought the attention of the international community to the conflict in Northern Uganda. More than 130 students were abducted by the LRA during a night raid. Following the raid, a brave rescue attempt by one of the nuns at the school and a science teacher led to approximately one hundred girls being released.
The remaining abducted girls, like thousands of children from all over Northern Uganda, were forcibly integrated into the LRA and suffered horrendous atrocities. Many further attempts were made to bring about their return and, over many years, all but one of the students ultimately did return.
We heard this incredible story and learned about the resilience of the school from its current headmistress (pictured here), who served during much of the civil war. She described immense trauma and pain. But she also described the ongoing commitment of the school to its mission of providing one of the leading educational experiences for girls in Uganda. It was truly inspirational. The complete story is told in the book Stolen Angels.
At the school, we also connected with our hosts, who are the coordinators of Caritas, a human rights partner of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. They introduced us to the Iceme Mission and its pastor, Father Luis. He cared for his community during the civil war and continues to serve them well during the ongoing recovery. He described the deep spiritual and emotional trauma that the community experienced and continues to struggle with.
All of Sunday was spent with Caritas partners in the town of Gulu, the headquarters of the diocese. The monsignor explained more about the context of the LRA and the struggle. He helped us to understand the psychological scars as well as the recovery efforts that are underway. The staffers at Caritas told moving stories of how they intervened–and continue to intervene–on behalf of their community, and spoke about interfaith initiatives to seek justice and reconciliation. (The Caritas headquarters in Gulu are pictured here.)
Today, we travelled to the small town of Pader where Caritas is working with internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are in the difficult process of “returning home” from camps. Along the way, we stopped at Fort Baker, which was a brutal transit site of the slave trade. Tomorrow, we’re looking forward to visiting former IDP camps and people in that “returning process.” We’ll share more of that experience soon.