Last semester, I was fortunate enough to spend four months studying abroad in Rwanda – Uganda’s neighbor to the south. While abroad, I was able to spend a few weeks in the part of northern Uganda where the Acholi were devestated by the conflict caused by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is infamous for its abduction of children and violence against civilians, specifically women and children. Over 30,000 children as young as 9 years old have been abducted and forced to become murderous child soldiers or sex slaves. During my time there, it was very clear that the Acholi people are still recovering from decades of war and forced displacement.
Being in northern Uganda where so much violence took place was an extremely powerful experience. I was able to actually speak with a Ugandan who tried to begin peace processes in person with Joseph Kony deep in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I also visited a former internally displaced persons (IDP) camp right outside of Gulu, Uganda. There, I met former refugees and was able to talk to them about their experiences during their 10 years of living in these camps. It was horrific to hear these first hand accounts. The IDP camps in Northern Uganda during the conflict were more deadly than the conflict itself. Life in the camp was extraordinarily hard. Huts were only a meter apart from each other (with about 50,000 people living in a very small area), disease was rampant, and the only food that was available was from international aid agencies. In addition, during the night, the LRA would raid these camps, taking food, supplies, and children that would be forced into war. I cannot even begin to imagine what that must have been like.
Despite the clear scars of war that were still apparent, one theme that was very clear was hope and determination. Gulu, a town that was especially hard-hit by the violence, is now a bustling city complete with restaurants, clothing stores, and a large open-air market. As you walk through the streets, it can be easy to forget that a mere 12 years ago there was horror and danger around every corner. All of the Ugandans I was able to talk to in Gulu were vocally hopeful about the future of the Acholi people. There are countless organizations, international and domestic, in the North that are aimed at rebuilding this community. The determination of so many Acholi people that I met to better not only their lives, but also the lives of those around them was absolutely remarkable. This gives me hope. This makes me believe that although the number of problems in the world is daunting, there is still faith one can have in humanity.