*Note: I am telling the story of my friend. We'll call her Carol for the purposes of this piece.
Call me whoever – Jane, Carol or Imelda, I won't take offence. I’ve been through so much that calling me by any name is but an insignificant detail. Maybe I would have fussed before I became a survivor, but now no. Life can be hard but, fortunately, we can have a makeover if we choose to look further than our nose and pursue success with determination, perseverance and will.
Have you ever heard of the Aboke girls? Well, I was one of them. And who are they, for heaven’s sake? I can almost feel your curiosity and impatience…
Well, I was a young girl in my early teens, studying like all other girls of my age at St. Mary’s Secondary School, Aboke which is located in in Northern Uganda, East Africa. We had heard rumours that if taken captive, girls were either raped or turned into sex slaves, or both.
At dawn, while nobody knew exactly what was happening, here come the rebel forces of The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, a guerrilla leader, who had vowed to rule Uganda in accordance to the Ten Commandments. Before we knew it, we were abducted! From that time onwards, we were at the rebels' mercy as they expected implicit obedience from us. Sadly, many girls didn’t make it to the end: some died, unable to resist the hard conditions, some were beaten to death while others succumbed to infections, various sicknesses, etc. Others were beaten to death for trying to escape. We were their captives ‘for life’ and any attempt to seek freedom was severely punished. This was meant to serve as an example to others.
I became the young wife of a rebel soldier, someone distant for whom I had no feelings for. This mattered little to the man in question. I had to overcome my grief, my shock and my anger and succumb to the demands of a stranger. I ended up as a sex slave and got pregnant. Today my ‘bush baby’ is 15.
One day, Government forces on the hunt for Kony rebels, invaded what had now become our home. They quietly introduced themselves and guided us out of the rebel camp saying we were free! It was difficult to believe that we were free at last; it even felt bizarre.
I was now back to my village. However, realizing more than ever that my studies had been disrupted due to a war, whose cause I couldn’t quite understand, was to me most perturbing. And now I had a baby without a father around. Some people in my society already regard girl child education as a waste of time. So what would become of me and my baby? These people believe that it’s useless to educate a girl as she eventually gets married and benefits her in-laws more. So if the family has limited resources, they will opt for a boy’s education instead. The girl child may then be pushed into early marriage.
Perplexed, I stood there thinking of what was going to become of me. It was a trying moment. Everybody wanted me to tell my story although I could hardly think straight. To discern who ‘deserved’ to be told the story was a daunting task.
Mixed feelings put aside, I had to face the aftermath. I had so much lost out on education that I almost gave up the desire to pursue my studies. However, I got encouraged by some people who agreed to sponsor me. I joined Secondary school. With 7 years lost, I knew I had to put in extra effort to be able to cope and compete with fellow students. Today I have finished University at 32, and hope to graduate soon. It has been possible, and my son goes to school too!
If I have made it this far, it’s because I resolved to remake my life but more so because I got a helping hand from local persons who were moved by my plight. They believed in me despite my obvious disadvantages.
Today, I believe that responsible stakeholders should ensure that students are protected from forces disrupting their education process. Such people should not go unpunished. Depriving a child of education is a serious issue. Government, Human Rights’ and Law commissions should sensitize society further and enforce laws concerning child abuse.
Also, the community should be taught. We escape horrifying situations only to be met by judgmental individuals, oblivious to what befell us. Stigma is so much felt that it can easily result into far-reaching and destructive actions. Families should be taught how to handle victims, even if it means providing them with tailor-made courses in the area of counselling. Otherwise, the former abductee may feel rejected and choose, therefore, to keep silent. Yet, silence of this nature can be a form of violence.
Teachers, religious representatives, mentors, medical personnel including psychologists, therapists as well as competent representatives of civil society should be identified and paid in order to take holistic care of former abductees. Some of them may resume school like I did, but may still be tortured by lingering memories of the past and need to talk to somebody without pressure, shame or guilt. Discussion platforms, seminars and fora ought to be put in place in order for them to receive counsel and regain self-confidence.
I am today part of a group assisting victims of rape, violence, illiteracy, etc. in my local setting, and continually apply practices that are helping me to become a winner.