March 21, 2005
|A UMNS photo courtesy of Africa University
Akelo (left) holds her son alongside another child mother at a camp for displaced persons in Uganda.
By Andra Stevens*
MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)—Everyone has a story to tell, and the story of 16-year-old Akelo is not an easy one to hear.
teenage mother is caring for her 2-year-old daughter and infant son in a
camp for internally displaced persons in the Pader District in northern
from her worn-torn home at gunpoint at age 12, Akelo spent four years
in the bush with the Lords Resistance Army. In the years that followed,
she saw young boys turned into combatants and other young girls gunned
down for not walking fast enough or for trying to run away. She survived
a government forces attack on the rebels by lying in a pool of her
friends’ blood and playing dead.
from place to place while the group waged war on the Ugandan government
and people from bases in the north of the country and in southern
Sudan, Akelo was terrorized, used as a sex slave and became a wife and
mother at age 14.
Her adolescent experiences have left her traumatized, depressed and scarred.
Learning through real life
David Manyonga believes Akelo’s story, though difficult to hear, must be told and heard.
graduate student in Africa University’s Institute of Peace, Leadership
and Governance, Manyonga is doing an eight-week internship in the Pader
district. He is one of 22 interns who left the safety of the institute’s
lecture halls in January to immerse themselves in real-life
environments to learn about peace building, leadership and good
“The physical situation is bleak and greatly shocking,” said Manyonga.
“I’m living in the camp too and I see how little the people have and how
cut off they are from the world. But the spirit of the people is so
|A UMNS photo courtesy of Africa University
David Manyonga (in cap) is documenting the experiences of former child soldiers and abductees in Uganda.
institute’s partner, the United Movement to End Child Soldiering, a
Washington-based organization, facilitated Manyonga’s placement in
Uganda. Both bodies are closely monitoring the pilot internship program.
The goal is to build a long-term collaboration to equip community
organizations working in conflict zones, and to test the relevance and
effectiveness of the Institute’s training programs in one of Africa’s
most protracted conflicts.
are hoping that this is just the beginning of other relationships, not
only in Uganda, but in places like Burundi, Liberia, every place where
there are problems,” said Elijah Chanakira, a lecturer at the institute
and coordinator of its internship program. “We are hoping that our
graduates will be the people who will be relevant and effective in
situations of this kind—people who can help resolve conflicts and bring
Though he has multiple roles—intern, mentor,
trainer, learner, adviser and planner—Manyonga’s most important
contribution is to interview former child soldiers and abductees and
document their experiences. He’s working with a community-based
organization called Friends of Orphans to rehabilitate and reintegrate
former child soldiers and other war-torn children into their families
is in a camp for internally displaced people that houses 25,000 mostly
women and children. He describes his work with Akelo and other abductees
as crucial. Listening to the voices of some of this war’s most innocent
victims, he believes, is part of the process of national
reconciliation, forgiveness and peace building.
telling their stories these young people find release, they are able to
reach out and find that there are people who care,” Manyonga said.
“It’s also important that we know what actually happened to them, the
atrocities they suffered in this war that has been going on for almost
19 years but is little talked about and at times, seems almost
Responding to needs
the stories are told, wide-ranging and critical needs emerge. Akelo,
for example, was in primary school when she was abducted. While she was
in the bush, her parents were killed. The Uganda Police Defense Forces’
Child Protection Unit rescued Akelo during an attack on the rebel unit
she was traveling with. She now is psychologically damaged, has little
education, no parents and two children to support. How can she go back
to school? How will she support her family?
is not alone. Sixty-four young mothers or heads of household between
the ages of 9 and 16 are clients of the Christian Counseling Fellowship
drop-in center at the camp. There are also scores of orphans, former
child soldiers and women—all needing long-term counseling, literacy and
skills training and help to develop their income-generating activities.
a way, it’s a miracle to rebuild their lives as (they’ve been) to hell
and back,” said Beatrice Achan, a social worker at the center.
local community is leading the response. Though their resources are
meager, local church leaders established the CCF drop-in center to offer
food, health education and counseling and to start small self-reliance
projects for child mothers and orphans. That work and that of Friends of
Orphans is being supported by international partners such as the United
Movement to End Child Soldiering.
organization is advocating for additional financial and other resources
and providing funds for school fees. With the movement’s support,
Manyonga is helping to enroll children and youth from the camp in area
primary and high schools. He is helping plan a 2005 education program to
strengthen relationships among Friends of Orphans, local officials and
other community-based organizations working with war-affected youth.
Planning for the future
United Movement to End Child Soldiering is so pleased with Manyonga’s
work that it wants to expand the internship program and its partnership
with the institute and Africa University. Arthur Serota, the movement’s
executive director, is considering internships in the areas of water and
sanitation, technology, agricultural development, counseling and
plugged into Pader beyond what is possible to describe,” Serota said.
“His role in Pader District and his ability to make a difference both on
site with Friends of Orphans and in the community, at many levels, has
already become apparent and appreciated.”
Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance at United
Methodist-related Africa University was initiated in June 2000. Based in
Mutare, Zimbabwe, the institute is the first of its kind, linking
issues of peace and security with leadership and governance in Africa.
The institute offers post-graduate diplomas and master’s degrees in
Peace and Governance. Its first group of students enrolled in March 2003
and graduated in June 2004. Construction of a building for the
institute is under way.
University is the only United Methodist-related university on the
continent. It opened in 1992 and has 1,283 students from 21 African
*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa University.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.