Josline can recall in detail how she was abducted in 2002 by rebels from the Lords Resistance Army at the age of 12, and how she has spent the last nine years in constant motion across northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, the Congo and Central African Republic, moving to avoid detection by government troops.
She talks quietly but decisively, peppering awkward conversations with nervous laughter. At 14, Josline was given to a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander in a forced marriage and had two children by him. Somehow she survived.
‘It was a burden to me because I thought I would not be able to move and the only solution would be death. When you fail to move fast enough, the LRA kill you, or else the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) would kill you when you fail to run fast enough. The whole thing was about death to me.’
Josline is one of the fortunate abductees who survived and returned to her community. She was released with some other mothers who were slowing the militia unit down. Her children are the only good thing that has come of her abduction. ‘These [my children] are my profits that I came back from captivity with.’
Flown back by the Ugandan army into Kampala, she was given a letter with her photo and a stamp and told, ‘The world has forgiven you because it was not your way and you are free to move.’ But Josline returned to her community with nothing, and did not meet forgiveness. The problem I have is that of my brother’s wives. The wives always abuse me and talk bad about me, saying that I have come with evil spirits from the bush.’
She was sent on to the Gulu Support the Children Organisation (GUSCO) reception centre which caters specifically for formerly abducted girls and unaccompanied children, where she spent two and a half weeks in rehabilitation after almost a decade in captivity. She was given one petticoat and two plastic basins with which to start her life back in the community. Functioning back in civilian life did not come easily for her.
‘Before I came here [PGS] I used to not like people shouting and making a lot of noise at home, especially there was a small kiosk where they sold local brew, and many people could be there and make a lot of noise so I was not used to those kind of noises, that is why I went and stayed indoors.’
And when she was reunited with her family she had no parents, no land and a harsh reception from her kin
Josline was forced into marriage where her bush husband only stopped beating her when she became pregnant. Having children born of rape, Josline and her two daughter’s face discrimination. Many people in her community believe that not only is she wasted because she has fatherless children but that she is dangerous because of her time with the LRA. The head teacher of Pader Girls School, Ms. Atim Beatrice explains:
‘To make matters worse, with our African traditional culture, when a girl produces before marriage that girl is looked at as an outcast. And nobody comes clearly to support this girl here. The fact that these girls produced in captivity, nobody will go into reasoning to that level, so they still put them under that social group…the challenge which these girls get when they came back is finding another partner to get married to. Because everybody fears them; they are from a rebellious faction and therefore probably they will also be very rebellious in their homes.’
Josline chose to study tailoring because she wanted income generating skills that will last her a lifetime. ‘Even when I become old I will still be able to be under a tree and sew some clothes.’ Formal, academic education is not a possibility as Josline does not have the necessary certification; she did not complete primary school. In class her biggest challenge is understanding English. Despite her four languages, she never had the opportunity to learn English.
If not for intervention in the form of School in northern Uganda especially for formerly abducted child-mothers, there would be no way for Josline to receive this training. She has no money and no one to look after her children. Her fees are covered by donors. The school is unique in providing full-board to both the mothers and their children, including healthcare and education to both mother and children. She has very few possessions, she has sewn clothes for her children while at PGS and finds consolation in sharing with other formerly abducted child-mothers and vulnerable girls, as they all lack the basic necessities together and share what they do have.
At the school Josline has been able to associate with other formerly abducted child-mothers and acclimatise back to some kind of civilian life. ‘What I liked most was that the students were associating with me. I was not being stigmatised.’
The matron plays the role of mother and peace-keeper, called in for duty if fighting between the girls gets bad. The school is caring for over 450 girls, all of whom have painful histories. The Head Mistress says,
‘Some of them become violent just in handling petty, petty issues just because there the whole lifestyle is violence. So they also come here when they are violent. So it is through counselling and constant talking to this person in time.’
Josline will return to her brother’s village when she leaves the school because she has nowhere else to go. ‘My father has a large portion of land but I do not know whether they will give me any.’ Her hopes rely on a start-up from the school in the form of a sewing machine but last year there was not enough money from the donors to cover all of the tailoring students. If Josline does not get this start-up she will dig, leaving behind her newly learned skills.
‘When I am finished with my studies and supported with a start-up kit like a tailoring machine then I will sit, maybe even at home if I cannot afford a stall, I will start sewing. There is nowhere else I can go and stay. I will go back and persevere.’
Josline does not know what her future entails. There are some boys who say that they love her and have offered her affairs, but she is reluctant. Josline has had four HIV/Aids tests, three as part of her re-entry process and she asked for a fourth when she got home. She does not know if the men have HIV/Aids, ‘these days, everyone is infected with HIV/Aids.’
Josline worries that nobody will stand for her children and she is unsure if she will find a man who will accept to keep her and her children from the bush.
‘Since I came back from captivity. If I do not struggle to look for the way there is no one who will look out for us. I do not have the father of the children. Now caring for them becomes difficult.’