Grace Akallo is a young woman who was abducted from her school in the middle of the night to serve as a child soldier and sex slave of the rebel army known as the LRA (stands for Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony) in Uganda. She tells stories of the absolutely horrific things she saw, experienced, and was forced to do. This poor girl suffered hell on earth. The good news is, she lived through it, and is using her voice to spread the news of what is happening in northern Uganda. And the sad news is, we need her to keep doing it because it seems like the entire world is ignoring the atrocities that continue to plague the Ugandan people.
Faith McDonnell is an author and humanitarian who became interested in telling the story of the child soldiers in Uganda, and once she met Grace and heard her stories, it was decided that they would co-author this book, in which chapters alternate between Grace's narrative of actual experience and Faith's historical explanation of how these events came to transpire in Uganda. It's a beautifully written book that tells a very dark story, but again, it is one that will change your life forever.
What I've learned is that in Uganda's history, the most powerful leader (or the one with the biggest army or the best guns) is who gets to be in charge. There has been a crazy, violent, twisted "king of the hill" tug of war for power since Uganda's establishment as a British protectorate in the 1800's. Right now, things are stable with the Ugandan government, but there are factions of rebel armies who roam the countryside and take their anger at not being in power out on innocent civilians. Most of those are children.
What Grace tells us- from her own personal experience- is that the LRA would raid schools and villages in the middle of the night, when people are most vulnerable. They would abduct the children, and immediately begin the process of dehumanizing them by forcing them to kill a sibling, their parents, or another child. This tactic ensured the child would feel alienated from society and therefore would not attempt to escape. The manner in which the murders took place were the most savage, most violent possible. Smashing heads in, using a panga/machete to chop bodies apart piece by piece, stabbing with bayonets, beating with clubs, cutting lips and eyelids off with razorblades, stabbing through lips and pinning person to the ground with a knife, etc. Many of the killing methods I read about that these children were forced to carry out were so terrible that I have never even heard of them. So incredibly sad. These same methods were used to kill parents, teachers, or village elders who tried to protect the children.
Once they had taken another life, then the children were trained to be killing machines. They were forced to walk for long distances with no shoes or food, carrying materials and weapons for the army. The girls were given to soldiers as "wives," which really meant that they were raped repeatedly.
I found it interesting that the Islamic Sudanese were funding the LRA through weapons and militia.
At this moment, Uganda is slowly recovering. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandan people, including those who were children who were forced to serve in the LRA and people who lost their land/homes/family/lives to the LRA, are living in refugee camps scattered throughout northern Uganda. That is a very slow start to the mountain of needs these people have. They have extremely limited medical care, no government protection, very little food, no access to education, and no clean water.
Eventually Joseph Kony was driven to Sudan by the Ugandan government's troops. There are still divisions of the LRA who are in and active in Uganda. They repeatedly attack the refugee camps and burn families alive, demand food from the people, and continue to kidnap children.
There are thousands of children who have been forced to become "night commuters," which means they literally walk up to 10 miles one way each day to make it to a shelter or hospital just so they can sleep without fear of being abducted in the middle of the night by the LRA. Rather than providing for these poor kids who are forced to take such desperate measures, it is reported that they are harassed by men and teenage boys along their route. Some girls have been raped.
Then there are all the former child soldiers whose innocence was stripped away from them when they were forced to kill- violently. They are trying to re-enter a society which does not understand how to help them. The children's minds and hearts have been changed forever. There are organizations like World Vision who have a presence there in Uganda who have counseling centers to help rehabilitate the children back to a point where they can function within Ugandan culture. Slowly but surely, the country is trying to recover from such a nightmare.
Included at the end of the book is an exhaustive list of resources for people who have been moved to help the Ugandan people after reading this story. It is wise for the authors to include this, because there is no possible way a person can take all of this in without being moved to action.
Knowing these things leads me to pray more specifically and exhaustively for the Ugandan people. I am praying for resources and help to arrive soon for the refugees, for the Ugandan government to step it up in caring for these displaced people, for families to be reunited and restored, for physical, psychological, and emotional healing to occur for the people, for the former child soldiers to forgive themselves for what they have been forced to do, and of course for all the orphans left behind in the massacres of the Ugandan people. I pray that the Ugandan culture is restored, and that every orphan child has someone to truly love and care for them.