god’s plan

Grace Achara stoically refers to it as “god’s plan” – others would call it a shitty chain of events.

She was just 13 when the Lord’s Resistance Army came for her.

And, as with the thousands of other young girls snatched by the rebel group, Grace was forced to live a life on the run, forced to kill.

After spending over half of her life in the dense jungle of Central African Republic, she finally escaped home with her husband Simon late last year.

But with the number of returnees now down to a trickle, the reception centres aren’t what they used to be.

James Ocitti, a social worker at GUSCO, says just five years ago they were receiving dozens of LRA returnees a day.

These women and children were offered months of extensive psycho-social counselling and vocational skills training to prepare them for the start of their new lives.

But by 2014, due to shortages in funding, Grace stayed at GUSCO for just one week.

She received a mattress, blanket and a mosquito net before being told to return home.

She asks: “I didn’t feel so good because many people have benefited from their help – so why didn’t I?”

“I also passed through the same conditions as earlier returnees,” Grace said. “So it was their GUSCO’s responsibility to ensure that my kids and I were supported.”

“Because it is not easy to start a life without anything.”

While she was warmly received by her parents, Grace was stigmatised by many in her community.

Icako en kiti ni, her neighbours would mutter to her at the borehole.

You still have the character of a violent rebel.

“I felt so sad because I didn’t go to bush voluntarily,” Grace says.

“Their words hurt me but I just try and ignore it because that is how the world is.”

“Maybe that is what God has planned for me – simple as that.”

Grace says she was told the centre would follow up with training for her but, over a year on, she’s still waiting.

“I told them what will I do? How will I support my children?”

Her husband inherited some land but it’s only enough for subsistence farming.

Ironically, in the absence of help from GUSCO and an education, it’s a skill that Grace learnt in the bush that now supports her family.

She makes “waragi” – a potent Ugandan home brew made from yeast, sugar, groundnut paste and tea leaves.

Fermented overnight, she then sells the bubbling tea-coloured concoction at the local trading centre.

In a month she can make a profit of 50,000 Ugandan shillings – about $19.

Her stoicism and resourcefulness are inspiring – but god’s plan?

Dealt shitty hand, after shitty hand, Grace has to recognise she’s had to make her own luck.