If there is anything I must offer my children, one day when I have them, it will be education. This is something my father has offered all his children. In fact, it was my father’s passion for his children to be educated that led to me experiencing first hand Joseph Kony’s reign of terror in Northern Uganda.
Despite the ongoing conflict between Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Government, my father chose to send me, my two sisters and brothers to Gulu district, in Northern Uganda, for our education.
He wanted us to go to a good school and his sister had been educated there and excelled to the degree that she made it to the prestigious Makerere University in the 1960s. We would follow in her footsteps, he thought.
I remember arriving at the school on my first day. I wasn’t worried about the conflict in the slightest; the only thing I worried about was whether my daddy would give me enough money for sweets. I was too young to understand or care about the danger. This only lasted until nightfall. That is when I heard live gun shots for the first time in my life. It wouldn’t be the last time either.
When I first arrived, some of the girls asked me why I had decided to come and study in Gulu. With a lot of innocence all I knew was that my father kept saying it was one of the best schools. Many of them kept telling me how I would regret that decision.
I then began to notice that we went to bed as early as 6:00pm. Then there are times we had to walk to the cathedral just next to the school for refuge when rebels were suspected to be in the area.
Then one fateful day an assembly was called and we were forced to go to bed at 5pm. I will never forget this day as long as I live.
From the shelter of our dormitories, we heard gun shots as close as 1km away from the secondary school where my big sister was on the other side of the valley. We could not help but to shout and cry out for our parents to come and pick us up as many were between the ages of six and 14.
This is when I witnessed sacrifice; the headmistress who was a nun kept moving from one dormitory to another amidst the gun shot exchanges between the rebels and the government soldiers trying to protect us.
The rest of the memory I have of that dreadful night was that in my panic I had urinated on myself. I told myself that I would leave the school at the first opportunity and never return. Despite the discomfort I managed to eventually fall off into sleep till the next morning.
I am now thinking, as the rest of world’s children slept to the lullabies of their parents, thousands of children in Northern Uganda regularly slept to the sound of gun shots from the rebels.
The next morning we were collecting shells of bullets to show our parents on our return home to support our decisions of not returning to the school and for me to Gulu at all.
My experience of living in Northern Uganda lasted only one term, which is about 4 months. What then is the tale of my colleagues that were born there and had no choice but to live in that condition?
When I watched the Kony 2012 video, I could not help but to cry, the memories were fresh, not only of my experience, but of so many children that went to the same school as me, but didn’t have a choice to leave like I did. Gulu was their home.
Where are they now?
As I found my way back to Kampala in a safer school and around loved ones. To whom did they run? This is why, despite the criticisms leveled at Invisible Children and the Kony campaign, I support it.
The war may have ended three years ago, but the negative effects are visible in the lives of the people in Northern Uganda. The guns may have gone silent, but the wounds created by the bullets from them are still fresh. Evident by the so many child mothers, disease, high poverty levels as compared to the rest of the regions in the country. And the education levels in this region are also low – ironic given that the region’s fine schools is the reason my father wanted to send me there in the first place. This is because during the war, many of the good teachers fled the place in addition to the destroyed infrastructure.
Yes the war is over, but how can we forget the children that were forced to sleep to the lullabies of gun shots, the children that walked 10 miles from Laliya a village in Gulu to the cathedral in town every night to have a safe night sleep which was on a cold floor, and the children that were taken away from their parents only to be handed a gun to kill fellow children? Where are these children now?
Even when the guns have gone silent, their echoes still exist in the minds and hearts of so many children that are of my age today. And we are the mothers, fathers and leaders of this generation.
This is the very reason we need to bring Kony to justice. Definitely nothing can be done to bring back the dear lives lots in this insurgency that lasted two decades, but something can be done to change the future and this is what, in my opinion, the documentary seeks to address.