‘My wishes when I was in captivity was to come back and stay with my parents and family. Leaving the burden of always fighting where the UPDF and other soldiers could run after us all the time.’
Patricia is twenty years old and a mother of two. Patricia’s mother says that when she first returned from the captivity, she had a tendency to hide inside the house, retreating from the people around her. She is becoming more comfortable in public now but still does not respond to raised voices. Patricia is however determined to be heard, waiting for two hours to tell me of her problems and show me her amnesty certificate. She spoke quietly but determinedly about the lack of support, lack of family and lack of money she faces. About the struggle she has to feed and clothe her children.
Abduction & Return
Patricia was abducted in 2002 when she was about nine years old and returned to her home aged eighteen, last year after nine years in the bush. She was a baby sitter for her LRA unit before she got married off to one of the commanders. She does not remember how old she was when she first gave birth in the bush, but thinks she was around fourteen years old.
She had to fight for her release from captivity, insisting to the commander of her unit and father of her children. She has the panga (machete) scars that were delivered as a result of her insistence. Those in charge did not want to release her, but in the end the commander relented. She would have preferred to escape from the bush with him as her bush husband, but he stayed behind, Patricia does not know whether he is alive or dead.
After three days of walking along the border of Congo and the Central African Republic, she arrived with her two children at a camp in the Congo. Soldiers took them to their headquarters in the Congo [this is unknown] where they were treated well and given food, soap and clothes. From there they were taken to the Demobilisation Disarmament Repatriation Rehabilitation Reintegration (DDRRR) unit in the Congo for a week.
Patricia was flown into Uganda by the Ugandan military (UPDF), where she arrived with nothing except the clothes on her back and her children. She spent a week at the reception centre, Gulu Support the Children Organisation (GUSCO). From GUSCO Patricia was referred to Christian Counseling Fellowship (CCF) who reunited her with her family. No counselling was given to this formerly abducted child-mother despite just returning from nine years in captivity.
Patricia’s family has changed in the nine years she has been away, her father is absent, having divorced from her mother, her mother is disabled as a result of a motorbike accident. Her sister also returned home recently as a child-mother herself, having previously run away from home because her mother could not afford her school fees. Their mother cannot dig, the primary income-generating activity in this part of the world, and is helpless; there is no money-earner in the family. Patricia has been accepted home but feels that she has only brought burden to her struggling family.
The family is living on borrowed land with a house that was built by an NGO. Their neighbours are in similar positions; this land has been given to destitute families with nothing and can be taken back at any time. The little money her father left has been spent on food, and her family has started selling their possessions in order to survive. Patricia has nothing except for the hand-outs she received from the reception centers; three bars of soap, one plastic basin, two skirts, and two blouses. Since her return from captivity, Patricia is most grateful to these people.
When she is home, Patricia makes some money from digging in other people’s gardens, and now it is mango season, she and her family can live off of mangoes. Staying at school at least provides regular meals. But she is unable to meet all of the school requirements and does not have a school uniform or the correct shoes. She is not alone in not having these items but it marks her out as lacking.
Patricia says that she is happy to be at a school which caters especially for vulnerable girls and child-mothers, providing full board and child-care so that the child-mothers can attend class. She is happy to learn so that she can make money. Having returned from the bush five months ago, she finds fitting into her new surroundings difficult. ‘Wherever you go, when you first reach you will not find an easy life because you do not know the people.’
When asked what her troubles were, she identifies basic necessities and the ill-health of her children. Her youngest child has been sick with repeated bouts of diarrhoea and the school nurse has been unable to provide medication to help him. When asked, the nurse says that diarrhoea is rampant because of the close living conditions and poor sanitation due to dysfunctional flush latrines. The school nurse referred the child to health services outside of the school but they did not stock the medication and in turn told her to buy medication from a shop, but she does not have the money to buy it. Her child was referred to Kalong hospital but she did not go there because she does not have the money to travel there or pay the medical expenses.
Patricia has the remnants of bullet splinters in her thigh and ankle, which can cause swelling and stop her from walking. She reported it to GUSCO who told her to report it to the NGO which runs the school she attends. But when she called no action was taken. NGOs are reliant on donor funding, and currently there is no budget for paying individual ad hoc costs, such as healthcare. If she has problems, she keeps them to herself.
Patricia does not find school easy. Lessons, particularly theory, are taught in English; she cannot speak or write English. This is a serious obstacle to understanding classes and performing in exams, as exam questions are written in English. She got 40% in her practical catering examination and did not take the theory exams. Patricia is unsure of what course she is on, she does not know how long the catering course will last for, whether it is six months or a year. If it is six months, she worries it will be too little time to learn any useful skills.
When asked to give a message to the person in charge, Patricia asked for three things; soap, a stock of medication or money for medication for her children, and extending support to her children.
‘I would ask for soap, also I would ask for enough stock of drugs or for some money just in case of medical problems. When my child is sick, I would use it to go to the hospital. Finally I would ask if the Director [of the NGO which supports the school] could extend her support to me, to help my children who I have come back with. Support for many things including dressing, feeding, and building a house to keep my children in.’
Patricia has been given little information about her course at the school; she is unsure if she will get a start-up in terms of money or tools for her trade including cooking utensils and plastic chairs and tables. Patricia has modest ambitions, she wishes to set up a small restaurant but she is aware that there are already many hotels (restaurants) that she will have to contend with, and she is unsure if a start-up will be enough to set-up a small restaurant.
Patricia is happy to work as an apprentice in an existing hotel, or to work with a group of graduates to start a new hotel. If she does not get a job, she will return to her village living on the uncertainty of a loaned plot of land with her disabled mother and sister, where she will dig on other people’s land for 2,500 shillings a day, barely enough to feed her family on.
When asked what the most difficult thing she has ever had to do, Patricia pauses before responding, ‘I have to do only what I can to see that life goes on.’