The ongoing problems affecting the Acholi in Uganda are the result of long-term dislocation in displaced persons camps, the trauma of being kidnapped as children and forced into soldiering, and the consequences of mass rapes among the girls and women. Reintegration to anything resembling normal life is difficult to impossible.

Reintegration to something resembling normal life is difficult to impossible. The cultural and social relationships that have held the Acholi people together for generations have broken down. With so many in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, a part of the country that was once highly fertile and productive is now economically ruined.

Photo captions:

1. Irene is 31 years old. She has lived in an IDP camp outside Gulu since she was 11. She barely remembers her life from before. She received minimal education in the camp and has never been able to return to her native village. She has lost her parents to natural causes during her time living in the camp and has also given birth to five children. She met her husband in the camp and tries to maintain as normal a life as she can. She lives, with equanimity, in a one-room circular mud hut. She and her family live, eat, cook and entertain in this structure, living cheek by jowl with other displaced and marginalized Acholi. Her husband has begun commuting to his native village; building a home and harvesting crops with the hope that it will eventually be safe enough to return permanently. Once there is peace, Irene believes that such a life will be possible. Yet should Irene’s husband’s hopes be fulfilled, Irene will be separated from her family and home as she will live far away from her village and family of origin. Sadly, her situation is not uncommon. With millions of people in refugee camps, living in close proximity to those they would never have met had their traditional social structure not been destroyed, traditional social structures have broken down. Irene has one child with epilepsy who receives medical care at the local clinic, run by the African based NGO AMREF.

2. Four of Irene’s children.

3. Child living at an IDP camp outside Gulu.

4. The Laroo Boarding Primary School for War Affected Children. This school houses 670 children, 408 girls and 272 boys. Child mothers are accepted if their children are between 3 and 5 years old. They arrive with a range of serious medical problems: trauma, disease, war wounds, HIV, fistula and injuries from rape. The school provides psychosocial services, education and vocational training. Some are orphans and others have been rejected by their families and have nowhere else to go. Girls are not tested for HIV because they are considered to be too unstable to deal with negative outcomes. Some who had themselves tested committed suicide upon learning their status.

5. The Laroo Boarding Primary School for War Affected Children.

6. Students at the Laroo Boarding Primary School for War Affected Children.

7. Student at the Laroo Boarding Primary School for War Affected Children.

8. Girls playing at the Laroo Boarding Primary School for War Affected Children.

9. When the UPDF rescue child soldiers they bring them into reception centers where they stay until they are reintegrated into society. Over the last 15 years over 7500 children have passed through the center. They stay between 3 weeks and 2 years and are rehabilitated through structured activities including dancing and storytelling.

The GUSCO (Gulu Support the Children Organization) Reception Center tries to locate the families of returnees. When families are located, reunions are arranged and the children are sent home with a blanket, a mosquito net and a mattress. Acceptance back in their villages is hard, however, as there is a stigma attached to the former soldiers. Traditional cleansing practices to remove the demons of those the children have killed are still performed, through animal sacrifice and other rituals. Besides the challenge of societal acceptance, of course, is the child’s own personal acceptance. With some children being held captive for as long as nine years, the emotional and mental struggle is lifelong.

10. David was abandoned at the GUSCO Reception Center. It is not uncommon for grandparents to reject the children of former child soldiers and sex slaves because they are the offspring of rape and rebels.

11. Awaiting immunizations at IDP Camp outside Gulu.

12. Awaiting immunizations at IDP Camp outside Gulu.

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