For 18 years, the self-styled ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ (LRA) has waged war against the Ugandan government, carrying out horrific attacks and acts of violence in towns and villages. The conflict has claimed up to 100,000 lives.
Countless survivors have been scarred physically and psychologically. Sexual violence, mutilation and kidnappings are common. Up to 30,000 children have been abducted by the LRA and forced to work as child soldiers or to serve as ‘wives’ to rebel commanders. Children as young as eight have been snatched from their villages and made to carry out horrendous acts of violence on their friends and families.
Living in a state of constant fear, up to two million people have fled their homes to live in protected camps. Mission Aviation Fellowship is working in Uganda with other missions and relief agencies that give physical and mental care in such camps.
For example, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) works in the districts of Lira, Pader and Kitgum. Travelling in Kitgum and Pader is dangerous, but Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) opened the Pader airstrip last year and since then has been facilitating the travel of MSF and other personnel.
MSF now relies on MAF to ferry staff safely to and from the area. MAF also flies in medical supplies and makes regular deliveries to the camps where MSF gives basic healthcare and operates clinics for those affected by disease.
The camps were set up as temporary settlements by the government to protect civilians against LRA attacks. But the sad fact is that many people have been living in them for years – camp dwelling has become a way of life.
Disease spreads quickly in the camps and many are overcrowded – one in Kitgum has a population of nearly 17,500. Life here is safer than in villages and towns but it is not without problems.
Boredom breeds violence. Soldiers get drunk. There are marital disputes and even rapes. Occasionally, camps are raided by the LRA who come to abduct and kill.
As well as health problems, there are many deep psychological issues. Abducted children return to the community after years spent as child soldiers with the LRA. Many have been forced to kill their families. Others have come back with children born to them in the bush.
Their stories are horrific – stories of man’s evil towards their fellow men. Either directly or indirectly through family members, nearly all the people in Pader have experienced abduction, malnutrition, or the torching of their homes.
People will move back home when there is peace. Unfortunately it is difficult to know when this will be. Until then, caring organisations continue to play their part in healing and rehabilitation – helped by MAF aircraft and personnel.