From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
UMNS# 164-Intern finds heartbreak, hope in Ugandan camp
Mon, 21 Mar 2005 15:18:59 -0600
Intern finds heartbreak, hope in Ugandan camp
Mar. 21, 2005
NOTE: NOTE: Photographs are available at http://umns.umc.org.
By Andra Stevens*
MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)-Everyone has a story to tell, and the story of
16-year-old Akelo is not an easy one to hear.
The teenage mother is caring for her 2-year-old daughter and infant son
in a camp for internally displaced persons in the Pader District in
Abducted from her worn-torn home at gunpoint at age 12, Akelo spent four
years in the bush with the Lords Resistance Army. In the years that
followed, she saw young boys turned into combatants and other young
girls gunned down for not walking fast enough or for trying to run away.
She survived a government forces attack on the rebels by lying in a pool
of her friends' blood and playing dead.
Dragged from place to place while the group waged war on the Ugandan
government and people from bases in the north of the country and in
southern Sudan, Akelo was terrorized, used as a sex slave and became a
wife and mother at age 14.
Her adolescent experiences have left her traumatized, depressed and
Learning through real life
David Manyonga believes Akelo's story, though difficult to hear, must be
told and heard.
A graduate student in Africa University's Institute of Peace, Leadership
and Governance, Manyonga is doing an eight-week internship in the Pader
district. He is one of 22 interns who left the safety of the institute's
lecture halls in January to immerse themselves in real-life environments
to learn about peace building, leadership and good governance.
"The physical situation is bleak and greatly shocking," said Manyonga.
"I'm living in the camp too and I see how little the people have and how
cut off they are from the world. But the spirit of the people is so
The institute's partner, the United Movement to End Child Soldiering, a
Washington-based organization, facilitated Manyonga's placement in
Uganda. Both bodies are closely monitoring the pilot internship program.
The goal is to build a long-term collaboration to equip community
organizations working in conflict zones, and to test the relevance and
effectiveness of the Institute's training programs in one of Africa's
most protracted conflicts.
"We are hoping that this is just the beginning of other relationships,
not only in Uganda, but in places like Burundi, Liberia, every place
where there are problems," said Elijah Chanakira, a lecturer at the
institute and coordinator of its internship program. "We are hoping that
our graduates will be the people who will be relevant and effective in
situations of this kind-people who can help resolve conflicts and bring
Though he has multiple roles-intern, mentor, trainer, learner, adviser
and planner-Manyonga's most important contribution is to interview
former child soldiers and abductees and document their experiences. He's
working with a community-based organization called Friends of Orphans to
rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers and other war-torn
children into their families and communities.
Manyonga is in a camp for internally displaced people that houses 25,000
mostly women and children. He describes his work with Akelo and other
abductees as crucial. Listening to the voices of some of this war's most
innocent victims, he believes, is part of the process of national
reconciliation, forgiveness and peace building.
"In telling their stories these young people find release, they are able
to reach out and find that there are people who care," Manyonga said.
"It's also important that we know what actually happened to them, the
atrocities they suffered in this war that has been going on for almost
19 years but is little talked about and at times, seems almost
Responding to needs
As the stories are told, wide-ranging and critical needs emerge. Akelo,
for example, was in primary school when she was abducted. While she was
in the bush, her parents were killed. The Uganda Police Defense Forces'
Child Protection Unit rescued Akelo during an attack on the rebel unit
she was traveling with. She now is psychologically damaged, has little
education, no parents and two children to support. How can she go back
to school? How will she support her family?
Akelo is not alone. Sixty-four young mothers or heads of household
between the ages of 9 and 16 are clients of the Christian Counseling
Fellowship drop-in center at the camp. There are also scores of orphans,
former child soldiers and women-all needing long-term counseling,
literacy and skills training and help to develop their income-generating
"In a way, it's a miracle to rebuild their lives as (they've been) to
hell and back," said Beatrice Achan, a social worker at the center.
The local community is leading the response. Though their resources are
meager, local church leaders established the CCF drop-in center to offer
food, health education and counseling and to start small self-reliance
projects for child mothers and orphans. That work and that of Friends of
Orphans is being supported by international partners such as the United
Movement to End Child Soldiering.
The organization is advocating for additional financial and other
resources and providing funds for school fees. With the movement's
support, Manyonga is helping to enroll children and youth from the camp
in area primary and high schools. He is helping plan a 2005 education
program to strengthen relationships among Friends of Orphans, local
officials and other community-based organizations working with
Planning for the future
The United Movement to End Child Soldiering is so pleased with
Manyonga's work that it wants to expand the internship program and its
partnership with the institute and Africa University. Arthur Serota, the
movement's executive director, is considering internships in the areas
of water and sanitation, technology, agricultural development,
counseling and conflict resolution.
"David plugged into Pader beyond what is possible to describe," Serota
said. "His role in Pader District and his ability to make a difference
both on site with Friends of Orphans and in the community, at many
levels, has already become apparent and appreciated."
The Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance at United
Methodist-related Africa University was initiated in June 2000. Based in
Mutare, Zimbabwe, the institute is the first of its kind, linking issues
of peace and security with leadership and governance in Africa. The
institute offers post-graduate diplomas and master's degrees in Peace
and Governance. Its first group of students enrolled in March 2003 and
graduated in June 2004. Construction of a building for the institute is
Africa University is the only United Methodist-related university on the
continent. It opened in 1992 and has 1,283 students from 21 African
*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
United Methodist News Service
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