UGANDA: JAPANESE NGO BRINGS SMILES TO FORMER LRA VICTIMS THROUGH VOCATIONAL TRAINING

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Ms. Harriet Kilak, demonstrating how to design dresses

“I would like to take this opportunity to send our appreciation to Terra Renaissance for giving us the opportunity to do our vocational training here. Most of us had no opportunity to study because of the LRA war. We had no opportunity to continue with studies. Other students who went through this training are now self-reliant”

“I grew up and was raised by a single mother during the most trying moments of the war in northern Uganda. I am doing training in tailoring and dress designing. Before coming here, I didn’t know how to operate a sewing machine. When I graduate next year, I intend to start up a tailoring school at my village in Lukome”

GULU-UGANDA:I mistook twenty-six-year-old Ms. Harriet Kilak to be one of the trainers of former child soldiers and victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who undergo vocational training at the Terra Renaissance Support Center for Self-Reliance, yet she is one of the trainees at the center herself.

As one of the invited guests to the 4th graduation ceremony of Terra Renaissance’s 7th beneficiaries, I arrived at this center at about 9.30 am local time (6.30 GMT). Ms. Kilak, who was dressed like Uganda’s first lady, Ms. Janet Museveni, with a black & white spotted dress and a cow-boy straw hat, was busy arranging flowers on the chief guest’s table.

I learnt much later during the course of the day, that she was actually not one of the tutors, but a student, after she was requested by management to come forward and a make a speech as a head girl.

“I would like to take this opportunity to send our appreciation to Terra Renaissance for giving us the opportunity to do our vocational training here. Most of us had no opportunity to study because of the LRA war. We had no opportunity to continue with studies. Other students who went through this training are now self-reliant”, she says.

It is now very difficult to comprehend how our unfortunate brothers and sisters, who wore scars of the brutal  war ten years ago, just like Ms. Kilak, has transformed and recovered through the assistances of some NGOs like Terra Renaissance or through personal resilience.

In the case of Ms. Kilak, her father, the late Andrew Latim Ogol, was killed during the insurgency when she was only three years old. She and two other siblings were raised up by her mother, Auma Vicky, from Lukodi protected internally displaced camp where in 2004, 56 civilians were killed by the LRA. Her mother could not afford to educate her beyond senior four at Gulu Army Secondary School.

“I grew up and was raised by a single mother during the most trying moments of the war in northern Uganda. I am now doing training in tailoring and dress designing. Before coming here, I didn’t know how to operate a sewing machine. When I graduate next year, I intend to start up a tailoring school at my village in Lukome”, says Ms. Kilak.

The Center, which is intended to promote reintegration of former child soldiers and victims of LRA rebellion in northern Uganda, provide vocational training in tailoring and dress design, handicraft, carpentry & joinery and small scale business management to enable the trainees be able to generate own income for self-reliance.

The center, which was established in 2006, is being supported by a Japanese Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Terra Renaissance through funding from that country’s tax-payers and is located in Kanyagoga “A” village, Kanyagoga Parish in Bardege Division in Gulu City.

Another graduates, 27-year-old Ms. Monica Akwero, did not only drop out of school in Primary six from Lalogi sub-county, Omoro district, but she was also abducted by the LRA in 2003 until 2004 and defiled while in captivity. She is now sharing graduation with her three-year old daughterProssy while in LRA captivity.

Just like Ms. Kilak, it is difficult to know that Ms. Akwero was a former LRA abductee by her looks unless she tells you. She is happily married to a new husband and is determined to educate all her children even without support from her husband, but through tailoring and other economic enterprises she does back home.

“I used to despise tailoring profession, but through the training I had, I now find it a very profitable profession. Vocational profession does not want laziness. I am now determined to buy land and design sewing machines to establish a tailoring school in Lalogi” says Ms. Akwero.

The Regional Manager of the NGO, Mr. Tatsujiro Suzuka, says the mission of his organization is “to restore the dignity, self-esteem and welfare for the disadvantaged through community based psychosocial and economic interventions, as we move towards a society of self-reliance and a total transformation of the society for a peaceful co-existence”.

The Chief Guest, Rwot Yusuf Adek of Pageya Kingdom, told the grandaunts that he was arrested by the government thirteen times in the course of the rebellion because he was trying to broker a peaceful resolution of the conflict which could have resulted in Acholi losing their land.

“I met Kony in 2005 in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo and I briefed him on the plight of the people caused by the war. I told him that the Acholi would lose their land through government plan of establishing permanent settlement while in camps in the region. I told him not to turn his guns on innocent civilians but face the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF)”, says Rwot Adek.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was founded by a former catechist in the Catholic Church, Joseph Kony, thirty years ago with the supposed aim of overthrowing the government of President Yoweri Museveni and rule Uganda according to the biblical Ten Commandments.

His campaign of terror, which went on for over twenty years until 2006,  has claimed at least 100,000 lives and drove 2.5 million people from their homes in northern Uganda. As many as 100,000 children have fallen into the hands of the LRA, being forced to fight or enslaved as sex slaves; or as porters.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper on March 03, 2016, Aislinn Loiling, reported that the LRA abducted 200 people in the months of January and February 2016 alone while Associate Director of Enough Project says the new attacks indicates that Kony’s LRA “is not yet down and out”.

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