Stepping back from the brink

In meeting formerly abducted women across northern Uganda this week, I told them two things: that many westerners aren’t aware that young girls were used by the LRA as soldiers, and that these women’s woes continue unabated today.

I tell them that I’m not sure why this is – perhaps we’re afraid to turn that next page of their lives, afraid what we’ll see.

And the last week has almost made me want to avert my eyes too.

Story after story of government neglect and community abuse. Stories of HIV+ women having to wait for 3 months for their medication because of shortages in the area.

As a journalist, my objectivity reached breaking point last week when one of my participant’s 3-year old young sons said that the scratches on his stomach were from his uncle who refers to him as a “rebel.”

Hereditary stigma.

An all-too-common phenomenon in post-LRA Uganda.

So story after story like this started to take its toll.

I wasn’t trying to be sensationalist. I honestly wanted to find just one story of success, of challenges battled and overcome.

Then I met Lily in Patongo.

Make no mistake – she’s had her share of hardships.

She was abducted at 13 on her way to school. For nine years she was a porter, a fighter, a mother. She was given as a wife to a man aged 40 years her senior at 14. She gave birth at 15.

Like other formerly abducted women she had to deal with community abuse upon her return, and had waking visions of talking with the people she had killed.

But where her story differs from most accounts I’ve heard so far, is what she did with the amnesty money she received as a returnee.

Most women I have spoken to spent it on food.

Lily spent it on buying her own land and property. Encouraged by friends she has also started a silverfish business.

Every Tuesday she sells the thin, silvery fish at the small market in Patongo.

She travels hundreds of miles to Kampala three times a month to buy her produce in the capital, in order to sell it at a profit in Patongo.

In this way, Lily is able to send her four kids to school – a rare thing in rural northern Uganda.

Lily stresses the importance of school to her kids for their future.

An education was something that was stripped away from her on that morning walk to school.