World Vision is probably one of the most heart-wrenching, yet awesome places we visited in Gulu. It is pretty much just because of God that Tricia was able to get us in to see it and hear about their work in Gulu.
World Vision is and has been committed to the reception, rehabilitation, and reintegration of formerly abducted children in northern Uganda. What that means is that as child soldiers are rescued or escape from the LRA, World Vision helps them recover and return to life. It was established in 1995 to help formerly abducted persons from captivity by the LRA. Since that time, over 19,000 people have gone through their program.
We sat in a room together that had a mural around the top of the walls. The first painting showed a happy family living life typical to the Acholi people. The next painting shows the LRA coming in and kidnapping, murdering, and burning building. Next, a line of children who are tied together with ropes are showed walking through the bush. Sometimes the children were able to escape; other times they were rescued by the military. The children (or adults, depending how long they had been in captivity for) are brought to World Vision. They are first assessed for physical needs. Most are treated at the hospital for bullet wounds, other injuries, or disease. Many of the girls who are discovered to be pregnant from rape. After the hospital, the children return to the World Vision center where they receive help for psychological trauma, and the World Vision team works to reunite them with their family. World Vision works to document their stories, and provide food, clothing, and medical care. As you can imagine, there is a lot for these former child soldiers to deal with, including but not limited to: depression, PTSD, poverty and stigma at home.
Psychological support includes individual and group counseling. As parents are traced and found, the parents are also counseled on how to accept their child back as well as how to react, respond, and handle their children. World Vision is a Christian organization and also provides spiritual counseling. Art therapy is used to help the children process through their experiences and open up about their fears and memories. We were able to look at some of the drawings the children did during their art therapy sessions. Some pictures were of what life was like before the war or what they hope their life to be like after. Other drawings completely broke my heart: a child should not be able to draw a machine gun with such accuracy. Soldiers, helicopters, guns, prisoners, and blood were the reality of so many children for so long.
When a child was mentally and physically ready, they were reunited with their family. Sometimes families and communities would not want to accept the person back. Others were welcomed home.
Even though the war has moved out of Uganda, there are still returnees from the DR Congo, Central Africa, and South Sudan continue to get support from World Vision.
Shortly before our visit, several former child soldiers had escaped the LRA and had arrived at World Vision. These formerly abducted persons were all in their 20s and 30s – they had been kidnapped between ages 8 and 12 and were held captive in the LRA for 10-18 years.
Funding for World Vision Uganda is dwindling, as there are not many returnees anymore – they may not be keeping their doors open for much longer. As we left, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work that World Vision has done, and also considered how life might be today for those who escaped the LRA. How do you recover from trauma that intense and long lasting? I feel like by our own human strength we cannot move beyond it. I’m glad we have a big God who can redeem lives.