ChildVoice is creating a sustainable, replicable long-term village of refuge and care for Uganda’s child victims of war. The village includes a boarding school, non-traditional educational programs, a vocational center, and spiritual and emotional counseling for former child soldiers and other young people who need long-term care and cannot return to their families. It is located in Lukodi, north of Gulu, where in 2004 the LRA massacred 45 men and women and abducted a number of children.
The ChildVoice Lukodi Centre welcomed its first participants in November 2007. All of the program’s current residents are young women who had been abducted by the LRA or who were raped and abused in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Twenty-nine “Child Mothers” and their 36 children live at the Lukodi Centre. While the program is currently housed at the former site of the Lukodi Primary School, a permanent village and farm is planned for a nearby swath of 100 acres given by local village leaders and district government officials.
During their time at the ChildVoice Lukodi Centre, the Child Mothers participate in the following:
Basic education – many of the Child Mothers had their education interrupted by the war and are now too old to resume their education at their current grade level
Income generating projects
Provide an educational employment experience for participants in order to train them in management, marketing, and business skills that will serve them after they graduate from the program.
Provide participants with wages which are retained in a savings account, thus offering them the opportunity to begin supporting themselves and their families.
Generate funds to enable the Lukodi center to become self-sustainable.
Baked goods that are sold in Gulu
Holiday cards that are sold internationally
Life skills training
The children of the Child Mothers, many of whom were born into the LRA, experience the following at the Centre:
Early Childhood Development classes (ages 3-5) certified by the government
Enrollment at the primary school neighboring the Centre (ages 6+)
Regular doctor visits
Regular meals – food security
Physical and emotional safety
The young people living at the village can stay as long as they need to – until they obtain an education and the necessary life skills that empower them to be self-reliant and able to live on their own in the community.
Partnerships with local churches and other local NGOs will facilitate the transition back to the community. Trained mentors will assist youth in their reintegration to their communities by providing friendship, coaching, and support as they continue with school or begin employment.
The ChildVoice program model complements focused interventions with broader community development initiatives. In order to support the return and resettlement efforts of the Gulu District, ChildVoice has participated in several activities:
In June 2007, ChildVoice opened a clinic that provides accessible and affordable health service to Lukodi and the surrounding communities. Since its opening, the ChildVoice team of local health professionals has provided care for 950 patients a month. Also nearing opening is a new maternity ward, aimed at helping the many young expectant mothers in the region. On-site clinical care is supplemented by an outreach program through which a team of ChildVoice staff and volunteers visits outlying rural areas to share educational materials, administer vaccines, and test for HIV.
Income generating projects
Women from Lukodi work with ChildVoice staff to practice marketable skills and develop saving habits. The women produce items to sell in local and international markets.
ChildVoice constructed the Lukodi Primary School which provides primary education to more than 300 children
Water and sanitation
ChildVoice has rehabilitated several existing boreholes and assisted the Kulubel community to sink a new borehole, providing a clean and easily accessible water sources.
It is difficult to imagine a nightmare worse than the reality that has been endured by the children and families of northern Uganda. For the Acholi people in that part of the country, simple agrarian life was lost to fear and bloodshed more than 20 years ago when a rebellion led by Joseph Kony began wreaking havoc on the land. What started as an attempt to overthrow the national government in Kampala morphed into a decades-long reign of terror with indeterminate intent and devastating effect. Over the years, the group has abducted more than 65,000 children from their homes and forced them to be the mules, foot soldiers and sex slaves for Kony’s cult-like group of increasingly depraved commanders.
Very few families in northern Uganda have been spared; nearly everyone has lost a relative to death or abduction. Over 80% of the people in northern Uganda are interned in camps (Internally Displaced Person camps, or IDP) by the government, living in atrociously squalid conditions.
The imperative of the ChildVoice village is to renew Uganda’s hope for a bright future. In restoring children broken by war, ChildVoice will be developing the leaders and workers of tomorrow. A country shaken by a long-running rebel war cannot emerge from its dark past free of scars; yet those scars need not be debilitating. Investment in the healing and teaching of children damaged by war will produce a foundation of young adults equipped with the skills and competencies to lead Uganda toward a new era of peace and economic stability.