A war survivor journeys through stigma to acceptance
Abalo Christine is 31 years old from Lagile village, Awere sub county in Pader district. Her life drastically changed when she was only 15 years in primary school. One evening on her way home from the market, she walked into an ambush of LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) rebels. She was abducted.
The LRA rebellion that was led by Joseph Kony savaged the entire greater north region of Uganda. Children were turned to child soldiers, property and homes were damaged, burnt with much more loss of lives. According to a research AYINET carried out in partnership with SLRC, 1 in 3 homes in Acholi region alone were directly affected by the war.
From the very first day in captivity for Christine, she witnessed brutal killings. These inhuman acts grew in scale and over time, she was initiated into serving other victims the very same torture that so shocked her in the beginning. She was given a gun and was required to use it. This changed her way of life and thinking entirely.
She stayed in the bush for 11 years and returned in 2001 with twin babies; Opio and Ochen. She had the babies while in the bush through forceful union. She managed to escape when the government soldiers overpowered the group she belonged to and she was taken for rehabilitation.
Upon her return home, Christine’s biggest challenge was the way people treated her. Right from her very home and neighborhood,
“I was given names and people used to fear that I might kill them” Christine explains.
It was even tougher for her two boys, she continued to explain. Her two children also carried their own portion of the stigma. Being children born in captivity without a known father; they were called names from their peers; names like, ‘children of kony’ and at times ‘rebels’. They dropped out of school in P.4 refusing to go to school.
The children were at several occasions beaten within the community and started to escape to other distant places. This was partly as a result of the culture and habits they picked while in captivity and perhaps the only way of life they knew. They were accused of thieving, and violent tendencies.
Her own family (guardians) found it hard to accept her two sons. They gave her only one garden which was not enough to produce enough to feed them and provide for other basics.
A community focal person with AYINET under the trauma healing project heard of the conditions of her two boys and paid her a visit. He shared with her and introduced her to a counselor. He also encouraged her to attend resilience fairs and dialogues. The trauma healing project was supported by USAID-SAFE. (Supporting Access to Justice Fostering Equity and Peace)
Through the dialogues and resilience fairs where local authorities were actively involved besides the AYINET staff, the communities acknowledged and understood better the challenges of returnees. This impacted on how Christine’s boys were treated. The frequent battering they frequently suffered stopped. The children are now at peace with the community.
Her family added her one more garden when they attended one of the public dialogues where their issue was raised. She now happily owns two gardens she says she can use to harvest more.
“I now control my anger unlike before where when someone told me things that annoyed me, I would quickly react and most times violently.”
With renewed hope in life, she plans to focus and work towards the education of her two sons.