Everyone that knows Pamela, the Executive Director of GWED-G, knows that she is a wealth of stories. She memorizes names, dates, and personal details and recounts them without hesitation. For that reason, her stories, and the people on which they are based, are hard to forget.
The other day, Pamela told us a story about a beneficiary of the Trust Fund for Victims, a grant given by the ICC (International Criminal Court) to war victims of northern Uganda while we all watched a Spanish soap opera. This man’s rehabilitation was a success for GWED-G, despite his initial struggle. Due to the injuries he suffered while in captivity, he had to get both of his legs amputated. Fear and pain kept him from walking on his prosthetics until the GWED-G staff urged him to partake in a recovery program. After his rehabilitation, he returned to his home able to walk, but alone. His wife and children had left him due to his inability to work. In response, he once again abandoned his prosthetics and stayed in seclusion. Luckily for this man, he was under the watch of the formidable Executive Director of GWED-G. Pamela brought him back to life, and GWED-G provided him with g-nut seeds which generated income during harvest. Upon witnessing his economic success, his wife and children returned to him, and he continues to flourish with GWED-G’s support.
This man’s story was documented by a film team from Geneva, Switzerland. The documentary alone was able to accrue funding that sponsored another four years of the Trust Fund for Victims.
In this case, one story was able to affect thousands of lives.
Last Saturday, the GROW team traveled to Gem Parish in LalogiSubcounty to visit a HOPE group. The HOPE project was inherited by GWED-G from WACA (War Affected Children’s Association) and is funded by Care International. During this visit, a consultant hired by Care interviewed the community group to assess the program’s efficacy after three years of implementation (the HOPE project ended in March 2013). GWED-G staff members employ four methodologies in order to aid the recovery of war victims as part of the HOPE project: psychosocial support, physical rehabilitation, economic empowerment, and peace building. In Lalogi, we met Julius, who was abducted by the LRA during the war. As a result of physical abuse while in captivity, Julius suffered an incapacitating hip injury upon returning to his village. He received support through the HOPE project and was a beneficiary of GWED-G’s physical rehabilitation component. During our interview with Julius, he stressed the importance of the physical rehabilitation support he received and urged that its continuance was necessary for his community and injured individuals such as him.
Perhaps one of the most impressive qualities of GWED-G’s programs is their sustainability. Julius is a survivor, and like many who have received rehabilitation support from GWED-G, whether it be physical or psychosocial, he now serves as a community leader. After speaking to him one-on-one, Julius returned to the discussion circle between his HOPE group and Bosco, the GWED-G Program Coordinator. In order to reiterate Bosco’s message, Julius stood up in front of his parish (he was seated in a chair next to Bosco which faced the group’s members). It was clear to the GROW team and everyone there that Julius is respected for his perseverance. His opinion is now highly respected in his community and his words serve as guidance. Thanks to the services of GWED-G he is able to fulfill the role of a model and a support for others who share his story. His action as a leader will carry on despite the ending of the Trust Fund for Victims sponsorship. Hence, the training received by the communities in Lalogi under the HOPE project will outlast the program’s conclusion.
Below you can find the transcript of the interview conducted with Julius:
Q: What is your name and age? Can you tell us something about yourself you would like us to know?
A: My name is Julius, I am 44 years old. I have a wife and 9 children.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I am from Lalogi [subcounty], Jaka parish, Omokoki-tunge village
Q: Can you tell us the story of your abduction?
A: I was abducted in 2002 by the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army]. When I was abducted we were given heavy loads to carry and they gave us beatings at any time they wished. I was in captivity for about four months. One day when walking we entered into an ambush led by the UPDF [Ugandan Public Defense Force], and that is how I escaped. After coming back, I started to feel pain in my hip which kept me from walking. This went on for a period of one year. During those days, Médecins Sans Frontières was working here in Lalogi. They took me to LacorHospital, where they told me that there was no problem with the bones of my leg, but only the veins. When Médecins Sans Frontières stopped working here, GWED-G came in.
GWED-G started introducing this program for physical rehabilitation, especially for those who underwent challenges like me. I was then taken back to Lacor and they found that the ball and socket of my hip was rotting. The doctors from Lacor said that the case was beyond them, that they could not manage it. From Lacor, I was then again referred to GuluRegionalReferralHospital, where there are bone specialists. These doctors there told me that if I wanted help, I would need 7,000,000 Ugandan shillings. So I went back to GWED-G, who said while this amount was also too much for them, they would try to see how they could help. It was not until two years later in this March that I was taken to a hospital in Entebbe to get treatment. The operation cost 9,200,000 shillings. They cut out the rotten part of my bone and inserted an artificial bone. Now I am feeling better, but I still feel some pain where they cut the bone and placed the artificial one.
I am advocating that this kind of assistance goes on. Instead of giving banana seedlings, maybe some people who got injured could get help, because when you are physically fit, you can work and get money. There are many cases of this kind. There are some people with bullets still in their body, and even a boy with a similar case as me. But now, there is no way that this person can get help.
Q: Going back to the time of your abduction and your eventual escape, what was the response of your community to your return?
A: When you come back in the state I was in, when you are weak, the community will not stigmatize you because people think you were being punished. But when you come back healthy and fit, it is a different story. So there are categories of people who are stigmatized. But when I came back, people sympathized with me.
Q: How were you able to overcome your inability to earn a livelihood? Are you still limited in your ability to work?
A: I did face a lot of challenges. When my injury was getting serious, my wife left me. At a later time though, she came back due to the urging of our children.
Q: Did anyone else receive physical rehabilitation support from GWED-G along with you?
A: When GWED-G introduced the physical rehabilitation program, I was already a member of the HOPE group. It was because I was part of the group that I received helped. There is also one boy from Jaka who was getting physically rehabilitated but I’m not sure if he was a member of a group. All I know is that he was helped by GWED-G individually.
Q: How have you benefitted from your involvement in this HOPE group aside from the physical rehabilitation assistance you received?
A: The group helped me by giving me psychosocial support. Group members additionally supported my wife and also helped me with physical work in my garden.
During the time that I was undergoing terrible pain, I had a lot of troubling thoughts. I went to the local newspaper and made an ad to see if anyone could help, but I got no response. Then, I went to the Red Cross blood bank and requested that they draw all my blood so that I could die and so that my blood could help other people. They told me that they could not do this because it was unethical and that I also could not give blood because the cause of my suffering was unknown. At this time, I wanted to die.
Q: Could you access the greatest strength of this community after receiving support from GWED-G and the HOPE Project? Could you also identify its greatest need?
A: The greatest strength of this group is our saving culture. Through saving, and the interest that we get through our loans, we have been able to pay for a lot of things such as the school fees for our children. My recommendation is that this type of support from GWED-G should continue. There are so many people who fall under our same category, but now face the problem of money.
When I went to Entebbe, I met three other people with similar cases as me. One woman was asked to pay 13,000,000 shillings to be helped, but this woman had no money. These are the types of challenges that people face, so the type of support I got should still go on.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with those that may read or see your interview in the future?
A: A lot of funds are coming to Northern Uganda for post-conflict recovery. This money does not seem to be going in the right direction or does not seem to reach the right target groups that could really benefit from this money. If the money was used correctly, cases like mine would not exist right now.
Also people like you [the GROW team] should be invited to come deep into the community like this and really see with their own eyes what is going on here. For example, when the project came to an end in March, some people came then. When we told them our stories, some of them were even crying. If people could come and see us like this, people with kind hearts, they could go out and become advocates and even get some money in the end that can help.
People like me also need constant follow up and support. Now I am getting better, but I cannot be left like this. Someone should be coming to us and checking up. I need someone to take me to get follow-up care and also need some support because people like me cannot work but have children. One of my children is in Gulu High Secondary. GWED-G might not still have the capacity to take me to my follow-up care, but I need to see whether I am healing and recovering. These are the challenges I am going through that need special attention.
GROW team out.
– Jess Northridge