As 2017 draws to a close, and many of us are gathering with family and friends, I thought I’d give you a real-time update on just one of the 109,084 children we have had the pleasure to serve. It’s the story of a former child soldier I crossed paths with in Uganda in September. (A heads up: this story may forever change the way you think about your clean dinner plate.)
Desmond is probably about 17. I say ‘probably’ because he doesn’t remember when he was born. He doesn’t remember much from before the age of 6, when Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels kidnapped him and forced him into life as a child soldier. He remembers that he had only just started primary school. But he doesn’t remember his village or the names of his parents.
After 10 or 11 years in captivity, he escaped from the Central African Republic with a group of 14 boys. 7 of the boys were killed as they crossed into Sudan. 4 of the boys were Sudanese by birth, so they remained behind in Sudan to try and find their families. The 3 remaining boys made the 3-month walk to Uganda. Crossing through Congo, a stranger was kind enough to give Desmond clothes so he could shed his military uniform and travel safely without being noticed.
At the border, Desmond told authorities he hailed from somewhere near Lira in Northern Uganda. He went to Lira, walking around the streets, his mental state unwell. One man at a market in Lira seemed to recognize him and said “You look just like your father!” but Desmond wasn’t thinking clearly enough to ask further questions. Thinking he might be dangerous, Lira police took Desmond from the streets and called GO Campaign Local Hero Jane Ekayu at Children of Peace Uganda. They had him in handcuffs and under gunpoint. Jane said immediately “Bring the boy to us.” Jane knew her first task: create a loving atmosphere around him. He looked hungry. They asked him what he would like to eat.
Jane suppressed a laugh and said they don’t eat bushmeat but she offered him fish. He thought it was a snake, but he thought it tasted good. He was most amazed by one thing: that they served it to him on a clean plate. Jane and her team explained that he was their equal and he deserved a clean plate to eat off of just like everyone else at Children of Peace. The words sunk in. They offered him a shower and gave him new clothes.
Soon, Desmond remembered the name of his school and the name of a teacher.
Unfortunately, Jane has yet to be able to find that teacher from long ago nor make contact with anyone at the school who might remember him. The rebels hit schools hard when they were on their path of destruction in Uganda, so there is little left in the way of school records. Some of the other boys who have been rehabilitated by Children of Peace recall seeing Desmond being taken out of the country by rebels, crossing the border in 2006, further confirming the timeline, but they don’t know what village the rebels took him from.
Jane’s best hope now is to go back to Lira with Desmond and search the market for that man who said Desmond looked like his father. That is her next move. Of course there is also the hope that as Desmond becomes more rehabilitated into society, perhaps some more childhood memories may return. He has started doing light work at the GO Campaign-funded vocational training programs, watching the other kids work the fish farms, and learning how to plant vegetables. He recently said he would love to be able to rent a small area to plant tomatoes so he can make money. Jane and her team were thrilled at this news – it is a sign that he has hope for his future. As Jane told me on the phone last week, “This is the best sign that he can recover from the trauma because it means he has begun to dream!”
As you consider making any last minute tax-deductible donations for 2017, please consider helping us raise funds so Jane can continue her work. Let’s not give up until Desmond and others like him find their home, or at least, find their future.
P.S. For a quick overview of what we’ve accomplished in 2017, click here. As for what we will accomplish in 2018, that depends in large part on you. You make us GO.