The Impact of Joseph Kony
To understand “their story” and the suffering of the people in northern Uganda, South Sudan, and (currently) the Congo, we must have basic knowledge about the warlord Joseph Kony, his Lord’s Resistance Army, and the debilitating effects of their war.
Kony grew up in northern Uganda and through vicious guerrilla warfare sought to take over Uganda’s government, hoping to replace President Yoweri Museveni. The Gulu region was the epicenter of this 26-year war. He gathered followers with promises of wealth and power. Then Kony and his army would attack villages at night to burn down their huts, steal their property, slaughter the adults, and abduct children as young as eight years old to become sex slaves and/or boy soldiers.
Because Kony engaged in extensive psychological warfare against the abductees, it was difficult for them to escape. Kony proclaimed himself a spiritual medium and the spokesperson of God, and he ingrained in his followers and abductees the mystic belief that Tipu Maleng (“Holy Spirit”) protected him and would tell him of any plots against him. By falsely accusing the children of plots, maiming them (cutting off a lip, an ear, or a hand), and continually threatening to kill them (which often happened), he instilled fear and reinforced the mystic beliefs. To insure the abductees felt they would not be welcomed back into their villages if they managed to escape, he and his followers forced the boy soldiers to kill members of their own village. If they refused, the youth were often killed on the spot.
Most of this terror took place in villages or boarding schools at night; during the day, the soldiers hid in the forests. Hundreds of thousands of the Acholi–in some districts, 90% of the populace–fled to displacement camps for safety. However, the camps were also seedbeds for rape, coercion, violence, and exploitation, and the people in the camps often lived in fetid conditions.
This 26-year war completely destroyed the infrastructure in Northern Uganda. As the Gulu region was the epicenter of the war, many non-government organizations flooded into Gulu to “help,” but often only 3-7% of international donations were actually used to alleviate the people’s needs. In other instances, displaced people who received assistance became accustomed to handouts and lost the motivation to “do for themselves.” Graft and corruption continue to be a widespread problem.
The war ended in 2006, but its destructive effects are still evident across a large area of the country. Much of the infrastructure that existed before the fighting was destroyed. Today, there are no streetlights, and most people live in straw-roofed huts without running water or electricity. Without good infrastructure, there are very few jobs. Unemployment is estimated to be 70-90%, and even those who have jobs are often terribly exploited or not paid at all. Because good jobs are so scarce, bribes are usually the only way a job can be obtained, regardless of skills or education.
Nonetheless, we have valid reasons to have great hope for this area. Three years after leaving Gulu, Pam returned in June 2017 and found enormous improvements. The most significant improvement was the highway from Gulu to the capital city Kampala; it has been completely rebuilt. Without all the potholes and dangerous drop-offs, the highway is no longer strewn with turned-over trucks, and head-on collisions are not as common. Driving time has been reduced by several hours between the two cities. The new highway will in time facilitate many more enterprises and extended trade in the northern region of Uganda.
The African people recognize education as the keystone to walking out of poverty. When possible, parents make tremendous sacrifices to help their children receive an education. With the increase in educational opportunities through scholarships offered by nonprofit organizations, this is slowly happening. In addition, the younger generation, now aware of better conditions around the world, are highly motivated to work extra hard to improve their lives. You will see from their stories that these bright, determined, and resourceful young adults are already bringing about many positive changes for themselves and their communities.
When we met Phillip, a brilliant young man, he had already been chosen by the government to become a doctor and was in his early years of medical school. The fees were very expensive, but he was resolute about finding ways to pay for his tuition. When crops were plentiful, he would take them into South Sudan where the food supplies were short and prices much higher. When the season was too dry or the crops failed, he developed other ways to earn the money. At times he was not successful, but he never lost hope. His wisdom and integrity contributed to his becoming a respected leader in the community spending many hours each week in voluntary service. The following is his inspiring story of determination to become self-reliant and provide health and dignity to his people:
“I am Phillip Odiambo, 28 years old male from a small town in northern Uganda called Gulu in Uganda. I come from a Christian family of seven siblings and dad and mum. I am the fourth born baby and firstborn boy in the family. I am single but hope to one day get married…I fancy having a family.
“I am a clinical officer (A doctor with additional authority; see additional information in Understanding Africa) who graduated last year from Gulu School of Clinical Officers in Diploma in Clinical Medicine and Community Health. I also attained a certificate in Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) from Gulu Regional Referral Hospital and recently I have acquired another certificate in clinical management of HIV/AIDs and advanced TB management through a volunteering opportunity with TASO which is implementing the TEAM project funded by the Infectious Disease Institute.
“Despite these qualification, I still wake up every morning to look at newspapers and read through for any job posting for my qualification. Then I make some liquid soap in case orders have been made, run around to volunteer with organizations, and after a long day of up and down movement, sit and shave a few hairs in a small barbershop before I retire to sleep. This is because I don’t have any full time job. Clinics around exploit us because so many clinical officers are on the streets looking for jobs. If you are lucky you may get a job of 4 dollars per day from a very nice person.
“Nowadays when a position is advertised, over 400 applicants will apply and chances that you would make it to the interviews alone are very very slim. It was not like 10 years where clinical officers would be booked from schools. Even worse, the curriculum is being changed and soon the degree will need an extra certificate to be employed.
“The only way out of this is to study a specialty and have this extra knowledge before this is mandatory because there will be an army of unemployed graduates on the street who won’t have this extra certification.
“Unfortunately for some of us who have the desire to study and have projected our vision far into the future, we are normally brought down by the economic dysfunctions of our families. Like for me, I have really struggled to get where I am now and I still remember how in 2003 …”
“… It was one Saturday evening when me and my mother were in the garden making potatoes heaps when I realized something was wrong with her. Earlier on that day she had gone to the hospital and her doctor had found out that she was HIV/AIDs positive. She was our everything–food, shelter, tuition and hope. She was simply our life. The tears in her eyes were fear of how we would survive without her in our life. As her health deteriorated, I started to have the picture of what would become of us. Our rich uncle believed only a select person from a family should be educated, His theory: “some have to be educated and some not so that the uneducated will need to work for the educated.” Since he provided for only the firstborn, the second and third were sent to stay with distant relative. The youngest children travelled with my mum to the city where people with the Virus were being helped.
“I was the only one left in Gulu. Nothing was working out, so I had to drop out of school before exams (which also require fees) and I started hustling. I would buy vegetable seeds and cultivate and make money. Soon I started to save something while I never gave up on reading and copying notes from my friends. In 2005 the same class at college I had studied with were now registering to sit for the Uganda Certificate of Education so I rushed and using all my savings registered in a non popular school that had just opened which was looking for students. Using all my savings to get in, I was able to get the National Certificate even without two years of schooling,! I remember that was the first time I felt there was a Heavenly being who knows us and has His own plan for us.”
“In 2006 I was admitted in a government school to study Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics for my advanced level but I dropped out for lack of tuition. For the next four years I worked as hard as I could to be able to resume studies. Then in one year I passed all the subjects required for two years! At that time the government selected me to pursue clinical medicine and community health.
“Though I completed this courses it was absolutely from the grace of God because I had to dig (plant and harvest crops) and sell them in South Sudan, make liquid soap, borrow loans and at time sell off some of family land. Even so, I needed and received from kind hearts who heard my story additional helped me with tuition.
“Although the ultimate goal is to set up a clinic or hospital, my medical friends and I realize we must obtain more schooling to be able to meet the government requirements that are coming. But when it comes to going back to school I am worried. I pray Heavenly Father will help me through someone to let me further my qualifications in microbiology so I can work in this very region and have an impact on the lives of the least of my brothers and sisters. I know everyone has a story to share, this is mine.”
Phillip hopes to become certified in Microbiology from Kampala International University with classes beginning in January. Tuition and fees for one year are approximately $1,500. He feels he can earn through his enterprises $600 towards that cost, but needs donor assistance of $900 (USD).
William Joel Okeny
William is the Bardege-Gulu Branch President for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
“I was born in 1989 in Gulu Referral Hospital in Uganda. My parents together had 9 siblings and sadly 2 pass away. At the age of 5 I began to experience really hard life mainly because of civil war which was taking place in northern Uganda and we had to sleep in the jungle (forests) and here it really rains heavily and at the moment I started thinking ‘why am i born’ and I was wishing to better die.
“As time goes by the situation keep getting worse. Then four months later my Dad pass away. Still I am 5 years old. He was the only one working because my mother was a housewife and never went to school. She could not take care of us in the way families need and she keep on crying most of the time. She was very weak, with ulcers, pressures, and severe pain.
“She told us to look for an organization if they could help with school and to try different offices. But when we submit our name corrupt people would substitute it with the name of their children or their relative so we had little help.
(Note: the African tradition of potential grooms paying an exorbitant bride price prevents many honorable men from marrying until they are quite old and have acquired substantial income to pay the bride’s parents. See Blog about Bride Price).
“From that time til now life has been hard. I try any kind work and found contract work mixing concrete by hand, working from 6am to 6pm for 2 months but I was not paid even though my hand was bleeding from hard work. Later we were told the person who was to pay us ran away with our money. Until now I have not received any payment and even when I go to the corps they will not hear my case because I do not have money to back my case (pay a bribe).
“But thank Father in heaven that I receive gospel message at the right time and and am still alive. I learned how to serve others which took away a lot of my pain and helped me feel peace.
“Then I wanted to serve Him as a full time missionary in Cape Town South Africa for 2 years. Learning from that gave me so much courage even though life is still very hard. So now I am so happy to know these things and I always work hard to try to find work. I now am selling clothes, but I have not been able to sell enough to support myself. I do not have my own place and stay with a friend but his uncle asks me to find my own place. I have no place to go which makes it most difficult when I only sell a few clothes a week.
“Before my mission I learned a little about carpentry by helping the Moores. I am good at this, and I want to get tools and go to a trade school in Gulu so I can learn this and work in making things with my hands. My dream is to get a scholarship so I can do these things. Becoming a carpenter will help me and I will also be able to help others more. I pray donors will help me get my fees for trade school. I will not disappoint.
(Note: The carpentry trade school is three semesters. Those fees and necessary tools are approx 2,550,000 shillings or US$750, an impossible amount for William and most Northern Ugandans with no or minimal jobs. He has applied for Perpetual Education Funds (a low interest loan) but most trade schools in northern Uganda have not yet been approved and he doesn’t have enough reliable income to qualify.)
Brooks and I often saw Collins in the little GNUT (peanut) shop where he worked nearly every day from early in the morning until LATE at night to support himself and his younger siblings. If there were no customers, Collins would be studying his scriptures. He said it helped him find peace and comfort from all his trials.
“I was born in the village of Koch Goma in Acholiland, northern Uganda, to an impoverished family of nine children during Kony’s brutality. During the war we really suffered from lack of proper parental care and love as our family was torn apart because we had to stay with some relatives in town and could not all go to one family, so we were taken to different families.
“Staying with relatives became so hard because of the hardships at that time and we were source of burden to them. I especially was subjected to child labor and no school. My mother later opted that we start living on our own. Because of hardship, my older sister rushed into early marriage.
“My two younger brothers, Innocent and Polycarp, and I remained with my elder brother while mother stayed in the most dangerous village to get us food since my dad left to unknown destination with another woman.
“A few years later my elder brother was abducted by Kony’s men and as of today we have never heard of him. Our condition was worsened because I became the oldest boy, so when 11 and 12 years, I was heading our family in town with brothers who were 7 and 9.
“We were in school then but concentrating was hard because each Friday evening we have to trek to Koch Goma which is 15 km from Gulu town where mum is in search of food for the following week and on Sunday evening we are returning to catch school on Monday. Sometimes food get finished before the end of the week and we had to starve. This condition continued until in 2006 when I joined Gulu secondary school with the kind help of Rev Father Albertini who later died
“Both my brothers Polycarp and Innocent were abducted by Kony’s men on the way to the village in that same year . Fortunately, Inno returned after a month. but it was two years before Polycarp escaped from Kony’s men, In 2015 he took his life and the reason no one knows.
“My uncle was a school teacher and out of sympathy, after Father Albertini’’s death, started paying my school fees. He died in a boda car accident in 2012 which (innocently) involved a missionary couple, the Woods. This happened just before I was to join the university as well as to accept the Gospel..
“Inno and I managed to get some schooling, but Inno has not acted responsibly so all responsibilities for my three younger siblings rest on me since my mother is not healthy and my Dad left many years ago.
“I was blessed with an opportunity to be a missionary in Ghana for two years, Before leaving, I tried to invest the little money I was getting from peanut grinding into keeping animals — 7 pigs and 22 goats in the village to help my family, but when I returned they had all died of foot and mouth disease because there was no money for proper medication. This was the only source of income for the family.
“Often time I felt like I was just a nobody and even animals in zoos were better than me as I used to think on the various challenges I had passed through and are still passing through. But powerful words from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland bring me hope and comfort:
“Often in our most difficult times the only thing we can do is endure. We may have no idea what the final cost in suffering or sacrifice may be, but we can vow never to give up. In doing so we will learn that there is no worthy task so great nor burden so heavy that will not yield to our perseverance. We can make it to “Mount Zion,…the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all,” however long and hard the road.
“Although my expectations after my mission have been badly hurt, still with no job, I will not give up. I now have three goats, and I hope to start a piggery so in time I can buy oxen to plow my land and also help my neighbors plow.
Even though we are in extreme poverty I am delighted that my fiance’s parents are not making us wait to get married until after we have paid the bride price. They gave us permission NOW to have a church wedding with an agreement to pay the bride price a little at a time.
“I have planted an acre of cassava this year by hand which will be ready by December 2018 and at the same time I am planting small gardens for food crops like beans, sim-sim and gnuts, and most evening I carry charcoal to sell in town to get some money.
“The biggest challenge am having right now is taking care of my big family responsibilities, my mother and my younger siblings in my poverty condition. I am trying to establish myself in a good and stable business project that will be my source of employment.”
Collins’ trips to town to sell his commodities takes 2 ½ hours. He prepares his large area of land with a simple tool. Collins wants his first project to be a piggery because with proper medications, the pigs are prolific, reproduction cycle is quick, and pork is in high demand in town. It will cost him approx 3.2million shillings or $890 USD for a good quality piggery. He and Steve Lawoka will be business partners building up the business until Steve is able to meet his dream in the medical field.
We hope to raise $500 for their enterprise. The remainder would require Collins to work with a nonprofit that provides low interest loans for micro-businesses (such as Kiva.org). It’s for Africa! will also partner with other nonprofits to manually drill a freshwater well for his village next summer.
Simon with his mother at her home
When Simon was 14 years old, he and his father were walking from their remote village to town when men from Kony’s army came out of the bush and killed his father, and tried to abduct Simon. He was able to escape and ran to town to notify his uncle of the terrifying experience that had just happened. Simon can show you the exact tree near the road where the ambush took place.
Life for Simon, his mother and his siblings became almost unbearable but somehow they persevered. A kind uncle provided some schooling for him, but his bitterness manifested itself in many negative ways. Fortunately, in 2013 he gained a new perspective on the meaning of life and and his attitude and actions began to change.
Most Ugandan men are highly devoted to their mothers. They love them and respect them immensely. Simon was no exception. He was always concerned about her living so far out in the village with her health problems. Whenever he was able he would take her maize flour or medicines, but this was also difficult for him without steady work. When possible he would go to help her with the planting and digging or help her be transported (on a boda-boda) to town for medical treatment. His greatest concern upon leaving for two years was his mother. Although not of Simon’s faith, she was so gratified for the changes he had made in his life and this wonderful opportunity Simon would have to grow and progress as well as serve others. Fortunately, she and her family did well during the two years he was gone.
Even with such an immense increase in knowledge and basic skills developed through his service abroad, he still could not find any work upon his return. His uncle he had worked for previously was bitter about Simon leaving and told him he would not help him–if he wanted help, let his church help him.
Simon and fellow students learning electrician skills
Recently he needed help to get all his tools and work clothes required before his class was going out to do practicals. Rather than being given the money, he bartered for his tools and clothing by trading the paper bead necklaces he has learned to make to help support himself. Simon has one additional semester to complete his electrical training. His tuition for next semester will be approximately $200. He hopes he can continue to make this schooling part of a bigger enterprise for which he has already prepared a detailed business plan. Simon won’t give up on his dreams no matter what the circumstances. There’s no doubt he will continue his path upward and out of poverty.
“I am Lamtoo Clifton George. In 1993 I was born in Gulu Uganda to average parents that had seven children. This was during the time of the Lord’s Resistance Army (Joseph Kony,s LRA).
“As I grew older, there were times I did not have financial support to handle school tuition, but overall I have been fortunate to have good opportunities. I had big dreams so I worked with determination to learn everything I could and to serve others. Because of this, I was selected by the British Council as a finalist with the compassionate to serve the vulnerable. That is my part of my ultimate dream, to work with my like-minded friends to establish a medical clinic that will help the poor people around Gulu.
“In 2014 I joined the medical school at Kampala International University Teaching Hospital where in 2017 I received a diploma in Clinical Medicine. While there I was involved in student leadership with the university Guild Council and founded a student based organisation where students come together to share different experiences and invent solution to daily challenges in their communities.
“I also gave back to community through humanitarian services such as health education, and distributing cooking oil and maize flour to families directly affected by Nodding Disease Syndrome in northern Uganda. I was engaged in meetings for road map development with Uganda leaders like Director General of Ministry of Health, UNAID Country Director, and others to implement strategies as ACT partners in the tracking of sustainable development goals.
“Currently I and my friends who share the same desire for compassionate service volunteer with the Aids supporting organisation giving care to HIV patients which includes clinical and social counseling. In other areas we are doing health services for the most needy in our society to make their communities a better place through voluntary medical outreaches to the people. Our dream is to establish a community health service clinic so we are able to extend better medical service and quality care to many.”
Clifton, like Patrick, Steve and Phillip, is doing all he can to help fulfill their dream of establishing a medical facility. The cost in U.S. dollars is approx. $10,000. Their clinic plans include being self-sustaining through memberships and other means. It will provide employment for many good and well-educated Ugandans who are currently unemployed as well as a number of support staff positions. Their initial step is to procure title to land for the clinic. Their dream was Pam’s reason for creating It’s for Africa! Inc.