Children from many countries face a danger that is unfathomable to those in the rest of the world whose lives are lived in safety and security. As young as nine or ten, these children are either conscripted by their governments, given over to the military by their impoverished parents or abducted to serve in adult-made conflicts.
The children of Northern Uganda lived under the threat of abduction for twenty six years. They were captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rogue rebel force led by messianic leader, Joseph Kony, that attempted to overthrow the Ugandan Government. The children were used as porters, ‘wives’ and eventually soldiers. Many children witnessed their parents’ death as they pleaded for their children.
Upon their abduction these children entered into a hellish life where inability to walk on bleeding feet, escape attempts, illness and unwillingness to commit atrocities were punishable by death at the hands of their fellow captives. These children, a large number of whom were nine or ten when they were abducted, were trained to be ruthless killers and the younger the child, the easier the task, as young children can be more effectively subjugated. During Joseph Kony’s reign of terror over 30,000 children were abducted and except for a few original LRA members, the L.R.A. was made up of abducted children. Some children were held for many years while others were rescued or escaped after a few weeks or months. Whatever the legth of time in captivity, they all have experienced intolerable trauma.
For those who survived, other difficulties awaited. They often had very little education or skills and were stigmatized, unwelcomed and feared in their home villages because of their participation in the conflict. In many similar places in the world no help is available for young child soldiers. In Northern Uganda however, two organizations, World Vision Uganda War Children's Project and GUSCO (Gulu Support the Children Organization) worked to rehabilitate child soldiers. At the centers they received health care, psycho/social counseling and job training. As part of the counseling they were encouraged to tell their stories. It is easier for traumatized children to tell their stories in visual form and the creation of the images in the section Voices of the Children was part of their healing process.
The situation in Northern Uganda has greatly improved. Kony and his greatly reduced force have left for the Republic of Congo. The refugee camps that gave shelter to millions of people have been closed and the people have returned to their villages.
The Ugandan Children of Conflict Education Fund, UCCEF, is a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt organization, was formed in 2002 to provide funds for the education for former child soldiers who were rescued or escaped from captivity. We will commit to a child’s education when we are certain that the support can be sustained for as long as the child remains in school. With the knowledge that these children have been severely traumatized, our only expectations are that the child desires the education and demonstrates a sincere effort to learn. 100% of the money we raise is used for the education and needs of the students and to pay the salary of Anena Irene, our worker in the field who oversees their welfare. We also provide medical care and extra academic needs through our general fund.
We find sponsors for the students many of whom were suggested for our program by the two rehabilitation centers in Gulu. These sponsors promise to remain committed to the student’s education for as long as he or she remains in school. We do not expect academic excellence from the students but do require a commitment to the school work and passing grades. Occasionally a student needs to repeat a grade and we encourage the sponsor to give the student an extra year to succeed. Those students who do not have individual sponsors are supported by our general fun and we actively seek contributions.
We originally set out to support the children through secondary school. To our surprise and delight many students wished to continue to college. At present seventeen are attending university and seven have graduated from college with higher degrees.
We are a small organization, helping a very few of the total number of victimized children but we feel we have provided those few with the comprehensive and personal attention they need to live truly productive lives.