After we arrived in Gulu and settled in to our hotel, we walked through town with some guys from Gulu who work for ILA. They were able to share stories with us of how the war impacted their lives and also show us some places in town that had specific histories related to the war.
The LRA would kidnap children from their homes at night. They may force children to just leave with them, or even to kill family members and then come. The children would be roped into a line and march together the army. To help protect the children, night commuter stations were set up on guarded properties. We visited the bus stop as well as other land to see where children would walk (sometimes for hours) each day to spend the night in safety, to walk hours back to school or their homes. One of the guys with us did this for five years, and was actually kidnapped multiple times but was able to escape each time.
The guys shared with us some of the lasting impacts of the war. Many young girls were raped and had children at a young age. Families were forced to leave their land and go to IDP camps for safety. There now are land disputes as some family members have passed away or other people have settled on what was their land. In the IDP camps, immorality resulted in disease outbreaks including malaria, typhoid, and now HIV running rampant. This doesn’t include the psychological effects of living in fear, being raped, being kidnapped, seeing friends and family killed, or being forced to be a child soldier yourself. Yet to walk the streets of Gulu, you wouldn’t suspect it is full of people affected directly by a recent war. The Acholi people are welcoming, hospitable, kind, and resilient. For as much tragedy as there is, it is also a place where God is redeeming and restoring lives. We spent the next couple of days visiting organizations that are impacting the lives of families in Gulu and helping them find healing and empowerment.