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Tofta Educational

Northern Uganda

T.E.T. is not only concerned about the HIV /AIDS orphans from all over Uganda as well as Kenya, but it is also greatly concerned about the ongoing 20 year civil war in Northern Uganda.

Civil unrest has been a major part of life in the area of Northern Uganda around the towns of Gulu, Lira, Pader and Kitgum for nearly twenty years. All the children – and many adults – living there have never known peace.

The Lords Resistance Army (L.R.A.) has been terrorizing the area by abducting over 20,000 children and forcing them to attack and kill their own families as well as set fire to their homes. At times schools are attacked and the students are abducted – the girls becoming ‘wives’ to the rebel leaders as well as carrying heavy items like food and arms to wherever the rebels decide to camp. The attacks on St Mary’s Secondary School, Aboke and Lwala Girls Secondary School are just two examples. The boys are forced to attack, usually maiming but often killing, innocent people and loot items such as food. They suffer badly when they are involved in skirmishes with the Ugandan Army.

Strict discipline is maintained by the leaders through severe beatings, and at times forcing the children to kill their colleagues. These cause deep trauma in the children which can only be eased through counseling and giving them a hope for the future. Some 40,000 ‘more fortunate’ children, especially from around Gulu and Kitgum, often called ‘the night commuters’, trek several hours into the towns in the evening for security – and many sleep on the streets, at the hospitals or in overcrowded tents. Some organizations ‘house’ some 6,000 children every night. In the morning these children commute back to their small ‘shambas’ where they try to grow crops for their subsistence. However, often the rebels harvest these crops just before they are ready leaving the families without anything. Other children try to attend their local primary school to obtain what little education any of their brave teachers may be able to impart.

When interviewed the children are asked the question of ‘Have you been abducted?’ They have two replies: ‘Yes’, and ‘Not yet!’

Above: Teenage girls (14 – 16 years) with their babies who were fathered by the L.R.A. Rebel leaders. These girls either escaped from the L.R.A. Rebels or were recaptured by the Ugandan Army. They stay at a rehabilitation centre until after they have delivered and then are reunited with their families – many of whom are forced to live in the Internally Displaced People’s Camps (I.D.P. Camps). Their future is very uncertain.

Some of the children from Onyama Internally Displaced People’s Camp (I.D.P. Camp) near Gulu. Their primary education will be taken care of by the Ugandan Government’s Universal Primary Education Program. However, few, if any, can hope to attend secondary school as in the I.D.P. Camps there is very little economic activity to enable parents to pay the school fees.
Also in picture: John Kirkwood, Founder & Director of Tofta Educational Trust.

Left: Bosco was abducted by rebels in 1998 as he was going to Senior 2. He ‘served as a rebel’ until he was wounded during a skirmish in August 2005 when he received 8 bullets in his legs. He was left for dead. He managed to crawl to a swamp to drink and 2 weeks later was found and taken to the Ugandan Authorities. His left leg had to be amputated by an army doctor ‘in the bush’. He was taken to a rehabilitation centre in Lira where he was immediately taken to a major hospital in Kampala for further treatment of the leg, during which he nearly died. He is now waiting for a prosthetic leg and he hopes to return to restart his secondary education in 2006 at Lords Meade Vocational College.

Right: Eight young boys & girls at Lords Meade Vocational College – all of whom have been abducted and ‘served with the rebels’ for between 4 months to 8 years. Apart from the trauma of the experience Bosco, seated, had his leg amputated and Christine, in Nike shirt, lost an eye. With professional counseling they are recovering and looking forward to a better future with their secondary education. Bosco is hoping to rejoin Senior 1 in 2006.

Tofta & Lords Meade & youth from the North

Both Tofta & Lords Meade are keen to assist the disadvantaged youth in Northern Uganda, many of whom have for served a period with the L.R.A. rebels, and others have little or no future existing in the I.D.P. Camps where it is impossible to obtain meaningful secondary education. Redundant teenage boys bring their own social problems, and pubescent girls often ‘earn’ their daily survival through prostitution – many girls of 14 years are either pregnant or having a baby. The HIV rate is highest in the Camps.

One way forward is to educate these children, and while Lords Meade Vocational College is educating over 20 such children the demand for places is interminable. Individual sponsorships could mean so much to such a child.

Most of the people in the I.D.P. Camps have little education beyond primary, yet as and when peace returns to Northern Uganda there will be a big demand for educated leaders in the region. Currently with little economic activity in the I.D.P. Camps potentially good leaders leave the area for greener pastures leaving a vacuum for good leadership.

Patrick Okello was abducted by the L.R.A. rebels when he was in his primary school. He was forced to carry landmines for the army leaders. After several months he managed to escape when he was put on a guard duty near a village that the rebels were looting, and give himself up to the Ugandan Authorities. His family stays in one of the I.D.P. Camps at Gulu where they exist on handouts from N.G.O.s as there is negligible economic activity in the camps.

Patrick has given talks to several groups, including Rotary Clubs, about the situation in Northern Uganda – he concludes with the request for greater assistance for his brothers and sisters who remain stuck in their tragic existence with negligible hope for a better future.