Where We Work
The people of Northern Uganda have endured over twenty years of conflict, most recently involving the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Government of Uganda, and the Government of Sudan. The roots of conflict in Northern Uganda lie in a perceived sense of political marginalization by the people in the north as well as economic inequality. The biggest victims of this conflict have been the children of the North.
The war targeted the civilian population and the LRA sustained itself through the abduction and forced indoctrination of children into its organization. These children represent a lost generation of Northern Ugandan Acholi, Langi and Iteso. According to a study done by UNICEF between 2002 and 2003 alone there were over 10,000 children abducted. Over the duration of the war an estimated 25,000 were abducted by the LRA. As violence worsened the people of Northern Uganda were forced to flee their homes and seek protection in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps.
According to the World Food Program by 2003 over eighty percent of the population of war-affected area of Northern Uganda was living in IDP camps. These 1.5 million people were dispersed between 200 camps in Northern Uganda, with the rest of the population concentrated in town centers. Over 750,000 Ugandan children have grown up in these camps. The camps depended largely on foreign governments, international relief aid organizations and other development partners. These camps attempted to provide security and provide aid as the insecurity disrupted the provision of basic social services and impeded any social development in Northern Uganda for more than 20 years. Within the IDP camps there was little opportunity to generate income and a sense of desperation and dependency prevailed.
A lack of internal vigilance and policing led to high levels of domestic violence, sexual violence, gender violence, child abuse, prostitution and exploitation. Furthermore, overpopulation within the camps led to poor sanitation, shortages of food and water, insufficient healthcare, limited education and a breakdown of the moral fiber of the communities within them.
With the end of the war and the closure of the IDP camps children have been forced to return to their homes. However, many of them find they have no homes to return to and if they do their families are barely surviving in abject poverty. Furthermore, after 23 years of conflict and many years of dependency in IDP camps children and young people found themselves ill-equipped to reintegrate into their home communities. The breakdown of culture during the years of conflict has left these children vulnerable and dependant on social services and support that for the most part is ill-prepared to deal with them.
Today, post-conflict, the North is undergoing a period of economic and social rebuilding. The legacy of the war in Northern Uganda is its orphans. The fortunate ones are those who were taken in by the extended family or taken to rehabilitation centers or orphanages, however, many have been left to fend for themselves in child-headed households, or on the street. Other children have left the extreme poverty of their homes and turned to the streets as a means of survival, often begging and collecting scrap metal to get a bit of money. These children need psychosocial support and counseling to support reintegration into their home communities. They need access to education as Uganda’s Universal Primary Education is failing to include them. They need a safe haven, which will advocate for them and see to their physical and emotional wellbeing. They need hope for the future.
How We Are Making A Difference
We have identified an urgent need in Lira Town to address the issue of children living on the streets. Lira district has one of the highest percentages of street children in Uganda, largely due to HIV/AIDS and the 23-year armed struggle involving the Lord’s Resistance Army. Street kids in Lira collect scrap metal and perform odd jobs in order to survive. There is no government social network in place to feed, shelter or care for them. They sleep on a bed of trash inside or between the garbage dumpsters near the local market.
At present we are setting up a transitional foster home where we will take 10 children at a time off the streets and work to rehabilitate them over a period of 3 months. During this time they will receive psychosocial support, trauma counseling, life skills training, local language and English literacy programs. We will work to reconnect them with their home communities and resettle them with their families. We plan to send those children who cannot return home to boarding school.