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 or are abducted by insurgents in fights against the established government.

The children of Northern Uganda have lived under the threat of abduction for over two decades. They are being captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rogue rebel force led by messianic rebel leader, Joseph Kony, that is attempting to overthrow the Ugandan Government. They are used as porters, ‘wives’ and eventually soldiers. Many children have witnessed their parents’ death as they pleaded for their children.

Upon their abduction these children enter into a hellish life where inability to walk on bleeding feet, escape attempts, illness and unwillingness to commit atrocities are 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, are trained to be ruthless killers and the younger the child, the easier the task, as young children are easier to mold. To date, over 30,000 childen have een abducted and excpet for a few original LRA members, the army today is made up of abducted children, now hardened adults. Some children have been held for many years while others are rescued or have escaped after a few weeks. Whatever their length of time in captivity, they all have experienced intolerable trauma.

For those who survive, other difficulties await. They often have little or no education or skills and are stigmatized, unwelcome and feared in their home villages because of their participation in the war. In most places, no help is available for these young people. In northern Uganda, however, two organizations, World Vision, Uganda War Children’s Project and GUSCO (Gulu Support the Children Organization) are working to rehabilitate child soldiers and to reintegrate them into their communities. There they receive health care, psychosocial counseling and job training. As part of the counseling they are encoureaged to tell their stores. It is often easier for traumatized children to tell their stories in visual form and the creation of these images is part of their healing process. They work with the assurance of those who know their story well and know the importance of telling it. But most notably they display a childish pride in their efforts for these are, after all, children.

 

The Ugandan Children of Conflict Education Fund, UCCEF, is a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt organization, was formed in 2002 to provide funds for an education for former child soldiers who have been rescued or have escaped from captivity. We will commit to a child’s education when we are certain that the support will 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 find sponsors for the students who are suggested for our program by the two rehabilitation centers in Gulu Uganda. 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 mostly passing grades. Occasionally a student needs to repeat a grade and we encourage the sponsor to give the student an extra year to succeed.

We originally set out to support the children through secondary school (a six year course but some had completed some of the grades before abduction) We have discovered that sometimes the student is anxious to continue on to college and the sponsor is given the opportunity to provide that. At this writing we have six students seeking higher degrees.

At present we are supporting twenty six students. Ten others have dropped out and six have disappeared and cannot be traced. Hopefully they have gone back to their remote villages but there is always the fear that they have been re-abducted.