There are thousands of traumatized former child soldiers who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), living in Uganda today. Joseph Kony’s LRA received major media coverage around the world in 2012 due to Invisible Children’s campaign spearheaded by an in-depth documentary video, uncovering the atrocities of mass murder happening in Central Africa. Since then, coverage has faded as Kony’s efforts have declined, with the media mainly following major events concerning the attempts to capture Kony who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, rather than the condition of the youth now freed and living back in their villages in Northern Uganda.
“Estimates suggest that, between 1987 and 2006, the LRA abducted between 25,000 and 38,000 children,” The Guardian journalist Will Sorr said.
Kony and the LRA have left their mark on this generation of child soldiers both physically and emotionally. Richard, a 26 year old living in Jinja, Uganda spoke of how Kony and his officers would “rape women and cut their lips off, to show their existence.”
Many former child soldiers left the LRA with injuries and physical deformities. Besides bearing these marks of violence and brutality, deep emotional and psychological marks have forever left their mark as well.
Shallom, a 20 year old living in Jinja, Uganda, visited an organization that houses street kids, where he met a 19-year-old named Isaac. Abducted by the LRA as a 14 year old, Isaac tried to escape with a few other children several times, but was never successful. If he did not cooperate, he was deprived of food, and so it was that Isaac took on the lifestyle of the LRA, and was given a gun and a uniform. He was then ordered to murder his own parents and was given no other choice. As a young boy, he saw his family die at his own hands.
Reflecting on his conversation with Isaac, Shallom said, “They [ultimately]gave him his freedom [from the LRA, as promised], but used him to kill his own family. That doesn’t sound like freedom. So he lost hope, felt rejected and ashamed.”
A study was done by the Makerere University Medical School (MUMS) in response to the hospitalization of 12 former LRA child soldiers for “mass psychotic behavior.”
The study, carried out at a primary school and a rehabilitation center, reported: “Eighty nine children (87.3%) reported having experienced ten or more war-related traumatic psychological events; 55.9% of the children suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, 88.2%, symptoms of depressed mood and 21.6% had various forms of physical disability.”
Youth who were possibly abducted as early as 1990 as 8- or 9-year-olds were forced to commit atrocious acts against humanity and their own family.
As Richard put it, “…if you kill your mom, you will gain a heart of no mercy on anyone.”
Being in a war zone, forced to kill one’s own loved ones, tortured, or forced to torture another, and without being able to escape leaves a child severely emotionally damaged. According to the MUMS study, children experienced, “flashbacks and reminders of their life in the bush, including horrifying nightmares and occasional dangerous physical assaults on one another or even staff at the school.” These children face serious circumstances even now, having been released. The hard truth is that they will never be ‘normal.’ Their minds have been hijacked as much as their physical bodies have been.
“For instance, on seeing a schoolmate lying asleep in the compound, one child remarked: ‘The neck of this one is in perfect position for cutting with a machete,’” the MUMS study said.
These thousands of youth need to be treated and counseled, but often their rural Acholi tribe communities don’t understand the nature of post traumatic stress.
The Guardian journalist, Monica Mark reported, “[Acholi] people call post-traumatic stress disorder ajiji. It means something that enters your spirit and makes you behave strangely. ‘We have to tell the community, if a [returnee]wakes up shouting in the middle of the night, they have not been bewitched by Kony, they are just remembering battle,’ said Charles Onekalit, one of World Vision’s counsellors.”
Not only may they have to deal with their own psychological issues, but their families aren’t always supportive because of the lack of medical knowledge and attention. Because of this, former child soldiers and village survivors alike have turned to alcohol, families have separated, and women and girls are abused.
Sometimes to further their healing, victims wish for their stories to be heard.
“He spoke slowly and really emotional. He couldn’t believe that he actually murdered his own family. He had not shared this with anyone. The few of his friends that he tried to tell never seemed to listen,” Shallom recounted of Isaac. Shallom emphasized that what people like Isaac need is love and trust in their life.
Just like the world has largely forgotten about the LRA crisis since the KONY 2012 documentary brought a flood of support, many “people that live in the Eastern part of Uganda ignore this issue of Kony, and they forget the effect it has caused fellow Ugandans. Hearing [Isaac’s story]…something broke inside my heart,” Shallom said, and he further explained that it made him want to “love and care about people.”
Through all the pain and suffering, there is still hope. Organizations and groups who care about the cause continue to pledge support. MVHS’s Invisible Children club still commits to raising funds to donate. The club’s president, senior Yuna Choi, said, “We always try to find ways to fundraise. We’ve done incredibly well in the last two years and have accumulated up to around $800 at one point, and then we donate whenever there is a good time.”
“Kony’s Attack has cause a lot of fear in peoples hearts in the north, though life is still moving on,” Shallom said.
Time will reveal what the journey of restoration will look like for this nation that has endured so much suffering due to The Lord’s Resistance Army.
Oracle reporter, Shayla Tonge is currently volunteering in Uganda.