Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Children of War
Laroo Boarding School for War Affected Children is home to some of the most traumatised children in the world. We are screening all of the children in P5,6,7 and vocational with a view to determining how best to help these children. This numbers around 300 children all of whom were abducted by the LRA or in other ways directly affected by them.
The children have witnessed killing, rape, dead bodies and body parts, beatings and assaults, looting, houses being torched, ambushes, abductions, severe hunger and mutilation of ears, eyes, noses and breasts. Some of the children have stated that they experienced every one of these atrocities. Many have had these directly inflicted on them. Others have been forced to to inflict these on others.
Almost every child we have asked so far has seen a family member or close friend killed. The LRA abducted children from the age of 7. Often they would force these children to kill their own father and mother. They did so to ensure that the children would not try to escape home. From this early age young boys were brainwashed and beaten until they became desensitised to killing. The favourite words of rebel leaders were 'kill or be killed'. Often this involved killing their own best friends. The young girls were served out as rewards to LRA commanders and became their porters and sex slaves.
When the school opened in 2006, 14 girls fell pregnant in the first year. Many of the former boy soldiers that had been born in with the rebels knew nothing else than simply taking whatever girl they wanted. We were told about one of the girls that had been born in captivity to a rebel father and abducted mother. Every night the girl would run away from the boarding school to sleep under the stars in a bush or under a pile of gathered firewood. Sleeping indoors in a school dormitory with other girls her age was just too scary for a child born in the bush and accustomed to life on the run with the rebels.
These children have seen more death and brutality in their early years with the rebels than most soldiers witness in a life-time in the army. Although we still have many children to measure it is becoming clear that many (perhaps the majority) are suffering from clinically significant levels of PTSD, anxiety and depression. Even four years after the war has ended many children state that they are still suffering constant flashbacks and nightmares. Many state that they do not have a future and do not care whether they live or die.
In the evenings we put are putting all of the data into our computers. This is long and tedious process. The children's symptoms become numbers and thoughts and feelings become statistics. This is toughest part of the project. The sheer scale of pain is difficult to comprehend and truly feel. When we are in the school it can seem so normal. The uniforms, desks and sound of infectious laughter from the playground. But the physical and psychological scars of war are evident. While some of the children's eyes glisten with hope, many are empty and lifeless. I try to look into their eyes and fully understand their pain. I try to travel vicariously with them to the life that they have lived, the atrocities that they have seen, the guilt and shame that they carry. But I can't.
The saddest part is that these are only 300 of the estimated 30,000 children that were abducted in Northern Uganda. Most of the other Acholi people (1.8 million) were forced by the government at gunpoint into IDP death camps. At the time the world did not know it was happening, or simply ignored it. UN High Commissioner Jan Egland called the situation 'the world's most forgotten humanitarian disaster'. But the war is over here for now. The NGOs have arrived. Joseph Kony and his LRA have moved into Congo and Sudan and the whole mess is repeating itself there.