War Child Engagement Trip – First Blog Post from Nicole

Sunday, June 3. It’s 9 p.m., and I’m thinking back on what I’ve seen, felt, and witnessed this last day and a half in Uganda. And this is just the beginning… what a promising trip! Saturday, June 2. After a 16-hour flight, 15 000 kilometers in the air and two stopovers, War Child Canada’s Funding Manager Gabrielle, Jimmy and I are welcomed by Jonathan, War Child’s Program Director in Uganda, and Benson, who’s been working for War Child for seven years. Benson is the most senior War Child employee in Uganda, and he’ll be our chauffeur this week. This is a good thing, since driving in Uganda is some kind of extreme sport! Benson dodges through traffic like a pro. Cars have to share the road with motorcycles carrying several people (for example: a father drives while the mother is sitting sideways in the back, holding on to their child firmly) or lots of cargo. The nimble vehicles zig and zag through every opening they can find. You really need to see everywhere at once. As we sip beers (Ugandan, of course!), Jonathan tells us about the program and the double role he has to play because they don’t have sufficient funds to hire more help. He and Gabrielle explain where funding for NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) like War Child comes from and what constraints weigh on it. There are individual donations, corporate donations like those Aimia makes. However, money is also needed for day-to-day operations—office expenses, as well as funds for exploration and preparation, which lead to project proposals—that’s often the problematic part.   Sunday, June 3. We’re leaving for Gulu, where we’ll be spending a few days. Gulu is in the north, a five-hour drive from Kampala. Montréal drivers would be shocked and amazed by the quality of the road. Our streets are almost pitiful by comparison (though we do make up the difference with housing…). However, at about the halfway point, the road no longer looks remotely decent―Jonathan explains that it’s only paved as far as tourists are expected to use it… Our itinerary shows us a lot of the landscape. Uganda is made of green and red. The green comes from abundant vegetation everywhere; few palm trees, mostly shrubs and deciduous trees. Red is the colour of the soil that’s on the sides of paved roads and all over secondary roads. It’s also the colour of rusty tin roofs. The further we get from the city, the fewer cars and motorcycles we see. They’re replaced by bicycles or good old leg power. All sorts of people, including children, are walking everywhere, carrying objects on their heads or in their arms. Some of them are pedaling along on old bikes, food or construction materials in tow. Needless to say, no one is overweight here. We pass moms with their babies strapped to their backs, people holding out live poultry for sale, merchants in small wood or brick stalls bearing Coca-Cola ads, grazing goats and cows, tied with just a rope…   In the middle of our trip, we cross the Karouma Bridge, which spans the Nile. That river actually flows from Uganda, you know. Forget your preconceptions about dried-out African rivers—this one is very wide at this point, and the roiling current is really intense. No human being could swim or boat across this river.  That’s also why the bridge was destroyed by the government when the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army—does the name Joseph Kony ring a bell?) was rampaging in northern Uganda. It contained the rebels in the north and kept them from reaching the capital. Just before the bridge, there are baboons all over the road. Jonathan had warned us not to take pictures, because it’s forbidden to photograph bridges, military and government installations, etc. Still, we try our luck, taking two or three shots of baboons with our iPhones from inside the car. That’s when the soldiers pull up―damn! They speak with Benson in Luo (the local language). He translates for us that we are welcome, as visitors, to take pictures of the baboons and the river! Wow! Lucky us! Once in Gulu, we set down our bags and immediately leave for Lukodi, a nearby village. The locals agreed to tell us how, on May 19, 2004, the LRA invaded the village and killed sixty people.

We are greeted by the village chief and a few villagers at the memorial to the victims.We then enter the village, where, surrounded by small huts, corn plants and animals, a small group of people take turns telling us about what they lived through on that terrible day. In order to protect the rural population from the LRA, the village had been transformed into a regional refugee camp protected by the military. The rebels came, stole all the food and animals, killed sixty women, men and children, and laid waste to everything. Several other people were abducted by the rebels and killed in the jungle. An old man tells us how he narrowly escaped the same fate and returned to his village, only to learn that members of his family had been massacred. Another man, named Calvin, tells us that he lost five family members, including two children, at the very spot we are standing. And this old woman, who lost four… this broke my heart as a mother. The villagers also explain the very real challenges they must face: this village must care for many orphans and bear, among other things, their tuition fees. In addition, many of those killed on May 19, 2004 and buried here over the following days were refugees―in this culture, people must be buried following precise rituals and in their own village. Repatriating their remains to their villages requires costly exhumations. Many of the direct or indirect victims of the LRA are reluctant to talk about the horrors they experienced. Their lives were impacted in huge and lasting ways. A number of them are still afraid that, even though peace has returned in recent years, the same thing could happen again. Those who welcomed us today were happy to share their stories, even if it revived painful memories, and asked us to pass them on to those around us. Those were dignified, brave and generous people we met today.

One Response to “War Child Engagement Trip – First Blog Post from Nicole”

  1. Randell Cassady January 13, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    i really love extreme sports because it really gives me some aderenalin rush.^

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