The scars of war aren’t just physical

That’s what nine women, who have been brave enough in the last week to share their post-LRA experiences, have shown me.

Some were as young as nine when they were abducted. Girls as young as 12 were taken as wives.

Sadly there’s a depressing pattern emerging as I talk with women in Gulu and Pader, and I fear there’ll be more of the same as I head east to Patongo.

After leaving the bush, the lives of these women haven’t improve at all.

We all know about boy soldiers.

But how many of us know how widely girls were utilized?

How many of us know that 5, 10, 15 years after their return, they continue to struggle to survive and to reintegrate?

Reintegration.

Such an ironic term for the situation here in northern Uganda. Talking to these women has illustrated that the lives of these women can never truly be the same again.

Reintegration? No. Re-introduction, sure.

There were problems from the start.

Some women were unaware of the reception centres set up for returnees; others received no amnesty package; most received no counselling or vocational training; others were turned away as they were too old.

It seems those that did initially receive aid, have since been forgotten by the government and NGOs alike.

They struggle to send their kids to school.

They are single parents. No man will marry a former rebel.

Women like 42-year old Rose, bayonetted in the chest by LRA commanders for not working hard enough, now cannot work for long in the field because of chest pain. She receives no assistance.

Betty’s six year old girl has epilepsy. Paying $3 a month for medication was a huge drain on her financially.

Janet’s family is currently in a land wrangle with a villager who wants to take over their land. In Ugandan culture land passes down the male line, and with her brother still in the bush and her father murdered by the LRA, there is no male heir.

Lily has received no counselling from the NGO that was supposed to help her. She battled with cen, believing she was possessed by wearing the clothes from a corpse.

Others like Beatrice are now afraid of men, and remain unmarried. She blames her bush husband.

You’re only a soldier in the day – at night you must perform your marital duties he told her.

Lily breaks down when asked to compare life now to life in the bush.

“If I wasn’t abducted, I could have gone to school, had a normal job, found a good man,” she says. “Now I have to take care of four kids by myself.”

“I’d have preferred to have died in the bush than face the problems I have now.”