SPECIAL PROJECTS
 
2nd December 2004.
Tears from the wilderness

By Nabusayi L. Wamboka
WEEKLY OBSERVER

The tap tap of the Acholi drums still sounds in the camps. There is life here after all. In sorrow and pain, the Acholi find warmth in a traditional tune, their sorrow and hope all wrapped up in a song.

From the hundreds of half-naked little children in the camps, there is a sign of love-making and family life. But behind the flat-breasted Acholi women hurrying home, carrying bags of World Food Programme (WFP) food rations, lurks a teary story.
In the wilderness where they roamed under rebel captivity, they have given birth to children they would love to hate.
Today, several women who were raped or forced to have sex with their captors have buried their anger in the names of their children.

Angom, a 16-year-old beautiful girl, was abducted from Kilak in Pader district when she was 14. When she was rescued last July, she had a little boy, now aged one year and a half. She has named her child Ogen Rwot Robin (put trust in God).

Angom said she was tortured, beaten and made to fight in the bush, but the fact that she survived is testimony that God had plans for her.

She is the only one with that kind of hope.
"I think God loves me. I suffered in the bush and was beaten several times. But I always prayed that one day I should come back home," she said.

Adong, now aged 19, was abducted three years ago and was also rescued this year. She has a 3-month-old baby girl she calls Aromorach Scovia (Aromorach means she has met with misfortune).

"I have been tortured. I was made to beat people and I was beaten. I watched many children die in the bush. I did not want to have children with such people who did what they did," she said.

With a baby, and living in a camp where survival is a gamble, her hope is fast fading. Anying Rose, 20, was abducted in 1997. She was rescued this year with a baby she calls Akyero Stella, now aged three months. Akyero means "I have tolerated a lot in the bush."

Anying's attitude toward life has changed. "If I survived in the bush for all those years, I can survive anything. What I went through, only God knows," she said. Each time she looks at her daughter, she sees suffering.

But Akello, 20, who was abducted in 2001 and rescued recently with her one and a half-year-old son, sums it all up with the name of her child - Otema - which means "I have been over-tried."

Akello says she has seen more suffering in two years than her parents ever experienced in their lives. "Each time I talk to them about what I went through, they break down. But here they have taught us how to live with your sorrow. When you talk about your problems, you realise other people share your experience," she said.

Achan Alice, the centre coordinator for young mothers in Pader, says when the children are rescued, most of them are depressed and need a lot of counselling to cope with fellow children they are breastfeeding.

But herein lies another challenge. Hope in the camps is a far cry. As the WFP trucks offload the month's meals, old men and women thump their chests in sorrow. The food, they say, is not enough. Mary Olworo has no idea what her age is, but she says she desperately wants to go back home.

"The food here is so little. If only there was some peace for me to go back to my home, life would be good. I could still get enough food from my gardens," she said.

But her prayer may have to wait just a little bit.
The WFP field officer for northern Uganda, Stella Ogallo, said the organization cannot deliver the quantities that the displaced people want because of limited supplies. And it is too risky for them to venture into their gardens.

"They are disgruntled about the quantities. They said they were too little for them. Initially they also did not like the food because they were not used to it. However, when we brought sorghum, the response has been good," she said.
The conflict has displaced an estimated 1.6 million people who currently live in 188 congested camps across northern Uganda. WFP says most of the displaced people have minimal access to farmland and most basic social services.

More than 60 percent of the population in the conflict-affected areas of northern and eastern Uganda, mostly women and children, live in camps or with relatives. In Acholi sub-region, the worst-affected area, 90 percent of the population is displaced.

Despite the hunger, displacement and desperation in the camps, Acholi are a very strong people whose will to live and survive the horrors of an 18-year insurgency is stronger than ever.