IDP Camp Crisis

IDP_1Since 1986, Northern Uganda, and Acholi Sub Region in particular, has suffered through a disastrous civil war that has lasted for more than twenty (20) years. The conflict between the ruling government of Uganda and The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, led by self-professed messiah Joseph Kony, has devastated the country. As his rebellion became corrupt, Joseph Kony’s need for power became ruthless. Knowing he was losing control, his rebels started abducting children for the purpose of recruitment into his army. It is reported that in the northern districts of Uganda, 30,000 children have been abducted in the last 20 years. The LRA has abducted children, forcing them to serve as soldiers and sex slaves, destroyed entire villages, and killed thousands of innocent civilians. Many families have lost a child through abduction, their villages was attacked and destroyed, families burned out or killed, and their harvests destroyed by the LRA.

During this conflict, 1.5 million people were forcibly removed from their home villages into Internally Displaced People’s camps (IDP). The villagers were given 48 hours by the government to vacate the homes they had known for generations and relocate. Any belongings salvaged from their village homes vanished in the process of settling in these camps. The proud and self-sufficient Acholi people became totally dependent on relief handouts from humanitarian organizations and church representatives. The camps were never healthy or safe. The overcrowding and congestion due to rapid and unplanned establishment of the camps exposed the people to diseases, starvation, domestic violence, and targeting by the rebels to penetrate the government protection in the camps. They found themselves again being abducted, homes being burned, and food and belongings stolen.

The overcrowding of the camps led to many social and spiritual problems including promiscuity, HIV/AIDS, and Domestic Violence. Women were forced to walk miles to find a safe place to plant a meager crop. From camp to camp, lines of people walk the roads carrying water and their tools to and from the camps, making the best effort for survival. In the camps, we met family after family bringing up “camp children”, an entire generation who know nothing of life before the camps. Families struggle for a type of normalcy, but living in the camps only produced hopelessness.

The countryside is virtually empty.

With the onset of relative peace brought on by the Juba Peace Talks in 2008, the government has begun encouraging people to move back to their village land and homes, but there is nothing to return to. The people have lost all their belongings, and have nowhere to begin living the Clan life in the village they had known. The people are told the government would provide iron sheets for roofing, yet nothing has been done. The people are still frightened of Konys’ return, and more than fear kept them from moving back to the countryside. War itself is destructive, but thousands of children have been robbed of childhood. Boys and girls are turned into ruthless killers who no longer feel, but are numbed within; and their souls have become seared by the atrocities they have seen, and in which they have been forced to participate. Children 10 years old were taught to kill, often beginning with their own families. Others are killed and a child is allowed to live and then later commanded to kill in order to stay alive. If children did escape, they will never be the same again.

The realty of starting over was overwhelming for the Acholi people. Without help from NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations) and Faith Based Organizations, it was impossible.

David and Dana Mann, the founders of Villages of Hope Africa saw the tremendous need in Gulu Town, the IDP Camps, and in the countryside. Every aspect of Gulu and the Acholi people needed Restoration! VOHA has concentrated its efforts on supporting the resettling of people back to their home villages. By the grace of God, bringing Hope in the name of Christ Jesus, we are identifying where God’s resources – water wells, seeds, and farm tools- can best be placed to serve the most vulnerable members of society. The “Displaced Persons” from the camps are organized into Clan Groups; then we help these groups to Return, Rebuild, and Restore their lives and land.

When we look straight into the eyes of the children and adults in the IDP camps that have not yet had the opportunity to return to their land, we see them not with our eyes but with our hearts, the vision that God has shown us is becoming a reality, one village at a time. We see Hope! These are the times that give us the courage to continue with the work God has allowed us to be a part of. Return, Rebuild, Restore and minister to these vulnerable people with the Love of our Lord Jesus Christ.