JRP’s Gender Justice Research Offier Nancy Apio wrote an article on formerly-abducted women that appeared in the Peace X Peace blog on September 19, 2011. To view the article on the Peace X Peace blog, click here. Otherwise, it has been re-posted in its entirety below.
“A Childhood Cut Short,” Peace X Peace Blog, 19 Sept. 2011
By Nancy Apiyo
Editor’s Note: Below, Nancy Apiyo tells the story of her countrywoman Anne, who was kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army as a child. Nancy works with women who were once abducted at Justice and Reconciliation Project in Gulu, Uganda.
I always think about Anne. I wonder how she was able to go through that gruesome experience and still remain calm. She is a very gentle woman. When you look at her you can never tell what she has hidden within her. It is a story of her life, a story she has to live with for the rest of her life.
One Sunday evening, when the sun was setting on the hills of Palaro Village in Gulu District, she was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. She was on her way from collecting firewood. The sun was setting and the orange colour was so beautiful. It was not a bad omen at all. It was a sight she had always admired. The last thing on her mind was the insecurity that had loomed over her village for so long. She had heard of children who had been taken away from the village and never returned. Others managed to escape and narrated horrible tales of what happened to them. She heard stories about children who were forced to kill others.
Just as she was admiring the sunset and the beautiful sound from the birds that were singing, she heard a noise in the woods. She was startled. Her blood became cold. A huge man emerged from the woods. He was the ugliest man she had ever seen. He had unkempt hair and red eyes. He was a stranger in the village. She did not know that he was one of the commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), one of the most notorious rebel groups in the world. Their leader, Joseph Kony, was one of the most wanted men in the world. Anne was nine years old at that time. She was the older among her father’s children. The man asked her where she was going. He told her to put down her firewood and show him the way to the main road. Her inner voice resisted. She knew it was a bad idea. During that time the LRA had began to abduct children and turn them into child soldiers. Girls carried luggage and also cooked for the rebels. Some of the girls were turned into wives at a very tender age. The man coaxed her to take him to the roadside.
That was how Anne was abducted. She walked with the man and they met a group of children holding guns. The guns seemed too big for them. She thought they were holding them for the older soldiers. She did not know these were child soldiers. These innocent children had already been turned to beasts. She wondered if the boys would put down their guns and play with her. One of the boys pointed a gun at her and told her to stop staring at him. That was when she realized the child in the boy was no more. There was a short man living in him. He was a soldier and not a playmate. They spent a night in that place and the next day they began the journey to go to Sudan.
Before the journey to Sudan they were smeared with sheer nut oil, a ceremony the rebels did to indicate you were part of them. It took them one week to walk to Sudan. I have always wondered how her fragile soft feet made it to Sudan. She walks gently, like an ostrich, and it is hard to tell she ever walked that far. If she had not been abducted perhaps she would have been a model. At 22 years, she is so beautiful. Many children did not make it to Sudan. They died on the way. Some were killed by the rebels because they were too tired to walk. By the time they reached Sudan, most of them had sore feet.
The journey to Sudan changed her life. Her innocence left her. She stopped admiring the sunset. The sound of the birds singing in Sudan was not the same like in her village. It was like her spirit left her. She ceased to exist. All she could think of was how to survive with the rebels and escape back home one day. She became part of the gruesome rebel group.
Anne returned home sixteen years later with five children. Her story gives me the courage to move on during difficult times. If she could survive with the rebels and come back home, then if you are determined to do something you will achieve it. Anne never forgot about home. To me she is the epitome of a strong, courageous young woman.
I always wonder if the abduction of so many children in Northern Uganda could have been avoided. It is time the human race found an alternative to wars. We should put down guns and use our voices. We can talk to each other and resolve conflict. The world is changing fast today. Our hearts should also change. We should stop acting like beasts. Let us talk instead of taking up firearms. Anne’s life, like those of other women who were abducted, will never be the same again because of a war they don’t understand. Her only hope is to share her story with the rest of the world so that others can learn from it.