As a journalist I’m used to working long days. Adrenaline keeps you in the game for 16 to 20 hours during breaking news and disaster coverage. You sleep for three hours then you’re back at it. But nothing prepared me for how exhausted I would be after just a couple of hours of listening to the painful testimonies of young Ugandan men and women who had been abducted as children and forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. We produced the story for the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer when we traveled to Uganda this past June.
During our journey we met up with the young men at World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda. We also spoke with Sarah at her home in Orum in the Otuke District of Northern Uganda. For 20 years kids as young as 9 were taken from their villages, marched to Sudan where they were trained to be soldiers, and sent out in the battlefield whether they were ready or not. Michael told us how he was forced to kill his own brother. Justin showed us his body riddled with bullet wounds. Sarah gave us a tour of the village, pointing out graves including her sister’s. It was a senseless civil war and the children didn’t even know why they were fighting. Estimates are that 30,000 children were kidnapped but those are considered conservative. More than likely the number is over 50,000. Many spent their entire childhood in captivity and if they were not killed in battle or shot by ruthless commanders, if they survived their wounds and the traumas they witnessed, they might have been lucky enough to escape or be captured by the Ugandan government and sent into the arms of NGO’s like World Vision who work to rehabilitate them so they can be returned to their villages. It is tough work. Many of these children come home as young adults after spending the majority of their lives in the bush. They have been robbed of their education and have little hope for the future. They need to trust again. They suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and depression. One half of them were forced to kill someone. Communities have mixed feelings about taking them back. After all, these rebels killed tens of thousands of people and forced almost two million from their homes. It’s understandable that there are some hard feelings. Northern Uganda is at peace again and people have returned to their villages. It’s hard to imagine this terror just a few years ago. But the physical and emotional scars endure for these children. For their families. For the people of the region. And the LRA has not gone away. Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has just moved next door where they are traumatizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For a longer version of the story watch the link below to see what we produced for HDNet’s World Report.
For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.