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Former abductee survives pain from a retained bullet

Decades of civil war and insurgency have left deep scars in Uganda’s history. To date, the country is still struggling with how to address the horrific legacies of wars. 

Almost all parts of the country have had the bitter experience of conflicts. Northern Uganda, in particular, became infamous for adversities and violence defining its days for over twenty years during which the Lord’s Resistance Army carried out its horrific rebellion.

She says several hours passed by before she realized she had been shot. Her right hand was paralyzed and blood flowed heavily from the wound. Nothing was however done about the bullet in her arm. Only the bleeding stopped and after a while, the hand was no longer paralyzed.

She still harboured thoughts of escaping life in the bush as a captive and child soldier.
She finally got her opportunity at a standoff battle with the UPDF at Anaka. She chose to run away and had to walk for three days before she reached Gulu where she surrendered to a group of UPDF soldiers on patrol.

For about seven years Rebecca was a child and forced abducted soldier, and was also a caretaker to one of the children of the LRA chief commander Joseph Kony. She lived a life of looting properties, engaged in many war front conflicts with an opposing military force and other brutal commitments that they were assigned to do.

Her family received her when she returned: “I was welcomed with joy. Everybody near home came to see me to confirm that I was well.” Even though her family was ecstatic to see her, the rest of the community did not treat her well in the beginning. They picked on her, called her names, and said that she had mental problems. The problem was even brought to the tribe’s elders, who warned the people who had been bullying Beatrice that they would be imprisoned if they continued to bother her.

All the while, the bullet remained in her arm. It affected her in many ways; She could not work when it was cold, felt weakness and pain in her arm while carrying any weight and sometimes the part of her arm that had the bullet would swell so much she could not use her arm. This made it difficult for her to fully support her family.

She was also affected socially. She was always sad and withdrew from being among people.
“For long I looked for a way to come out from my situation but failed. I felt there wasn’t a need to tell anyone about my challenges.”

Even in her marital home she felt she could not talk to anyone, she felt her husband never appropriately cared about the pain she was going through. Moreover, she felt that could not run back to her father for assistance.

In 2017, a community mobiliser for AYINET in Odek spoke to her about the Medical and Psychosocial program that was targeting victims and survivors of war like her. Upon assessment, she was enrolled and taken to St. Josephs’ Hospital in Kitgum for a surgical operation to remove the retained bullet in her left arm which was done successfully.

AYINET counsellors created a strong relationship with her to help her heal from the mental ailments as well. During the therapy, she learnt the things that needed to change in order for her to adopt a positive life. This helped her to learn to cope with how to create relationships and instead of stifling her thoughts, share her feelings appropriately. Beatrice was on her way to gradual change towards living freely with people at home and the community.

Today, Rebecca is back at in her village with her husband and their four children. She no longer feels any pain and has fully recovered the strength in her arm. When she digs the arm no longer swells, she can even carry a heavy jerry-can full of water, and she is now in charge of the domestic work at home. Financially, She no longer needs to spend money on painkillers and can now contribute to the work in the garden.

Before surgery, Rebecca’s husband would often get mad at her when she failed to do her work, or when she complained about the pain. However, ever since her return home from the hospital there has been more love in their relationship, and they no longer fight in the same way.

Beatrice with the bullet in her hands after a successful bullet removal surgical procedure.