Today our group is still in the Pader district, after spending two days out in the country where Achioli people have returned to their villages from the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. UUSC’s partner organization, Caritas, has worked to help people return by having social workers work with returning families to help them find resources to enable resettlement. Today one of them, Jennifer, shared her story with us:
Jennifer’s first experience with the war in northern Uganda came in 1996 when her village was attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). She spent two days hiding in the bush with her young children until they were gone. A secretary by training, Jennifer left her job at the primary school when people were being displaced to camps, but she was able to get a job helping with food and supply distribution in the IDP camp for Sudanese refugees. In 2000, that camp was attacked by the LRA; she sought to make her way into the bush, but she was in trapped in the office and surrounded that night.
In the morning she watched as LRA members sorted and butchered her coworkers, some of whose body parts were boiled in a kettle. Before she was forced to eat this, however, the government army entered the camp and gave chase to the LRA soldiers. Jennifer, taking her four-year-old with her, decided to make her way on foot to her home village, which took almost three days. She arrived to learn that the LRA was hunting her, and that they had already killed two of her uncles who had denied knowing her. Her father advised her to flee, and gathered a little bit of money from relatives so she could make the trip to the town of Lira. She found lodging there, but had no more money and two children to feed. The women from whom she was renting her room helped her start selling small things in a market stall so she could support herself. After awhile, she was able to find a job as a secondary school secretary in another town. However, the town where this school was located was not in Achioli territory; she was in the Langey area, and the Ugandan Army attacked there, so again Jennifer left her job.
She then learned of some American scholars doing a study in the IDP camps on the effects of war on youth, and she was able to work with them as a field researcher. As this study was concluding, she came to the attention of Martha Thompson, UUSC’s Program Manager for Rights in Humanitarian Crisis, who had come to do an assessment with UUSC’s Program Director Atema Eclai for the UUSC to begin work in northern Uganda. UUSC decided to partner with Caritas in Pader district in northern Uganda, helping people return to their villages. When UUSC launched their program through Caritas, Martha remembered her discussions with Jennifer and negotiated with Caritas to join the team working with the displaced. Jennifer began to work on the UUSC Caritas project in 2008.
It’s easy to see why Martha was impressed by this amazing woman and wished to bring her onto the team. She has shown courage, commitment, and amazing resilience in the face of adversity. The need to support and care for her children, one of whom has been traumatized badly by his war experiences, has been a driving force for Jennifer. She supports not only her own two children, but seven of her sisters’ children as well, because her two sisters were killed — one by the Ugandan Army, one by the LRA – during the years of fighting. When Jennifer engages with her clients, they learn that she is truly standing with them, having experienced many of the same horrors and hardship they have during the long time of war.