by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
Uganda is once again in the news, and the focus is on children. Overall, that’s a good thing. There can never be enough attention heaped on this nation’s children, who endured 20 years of civil war from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. Yet, it’s important to distinguish between the Uganda of the early years of this century and the Uganda of today.
It is estimated that as many as 26,000 children in northern and eastern Uganda were abducted, raped and forced into servitude and military combat during the war. During the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) crisis, ChildFund responded with programs in some of the worst affected districts of Pader, Gulu, Lira and Soroti in Northern Uganda. We provided child protection and psychosocial support to thousands of children in the large camps of internally displaced people (IDPs).
Joseph Kony, who led the LRA, fled the country. Widely believed to now be in hiding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kony remains a wanted man for the terrible atrocities committed on Uganda’s people and its children. And he continues to exploit children who come into his reach in central Africa.
“In the early years following the crisis, ChildFund Uganda focused on reintegrating formerly abducted children with their families and communities, as well as promoting the protection and psychosocial well-being of many other children who were not abducted but still were affected by the crisis,” says Martin Hayes, child protection specialist. “By 2006, the northern Ugandan city of Gulu no longer had ‘night commuters’— children on the run from the LRA abductors and who were afraid to sleep in their own rural homes,” Hayes notes. “Today, Gulu is a bustling town.”
The last 10 years have also seen the return of tens of thousands of the IDPs from camps back to their homes and a gradual return to normalcy. “ChildFund’s work has shifted to helping the Ugandan people get on with their lives,” Hayes says. ‘We’re working with our community partners to promote children and youth’s protection and healthy development – tangible support that is making their lives better.”
Since 1980, ChildFund has worked with community-based partners across Uganda to support the needs of children. ChildFund’s programs currently benefit approximately 784,000 children and family members through establishment of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and parental outreach programs, school construction and teacher training, youth leadership and job training. “We also have been working with communities and families to support the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS, which is a tremendous problem in Uganda,” Hayes notes.
“Child protection is at the forefront of all of our programs,” says Hayes. “ChildFund is working closely in partnership with the Ugandan government, the national university, international and national organizations and community residents to collectively improve the protective environments for children. Together, our goal is to strengthen Uganda’s national child protection system.”