By John Oryang
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group perpetuated violence in northern Uganda for almost 20 years. The group was led by the infamous Joseph Kony, target of the global Kony2012 campaign, and areas like Gulu, Kitgum, Dokolo and Lira were hit particularly hard.
Now, these regions are trying to heal. Rehabilitation programs, medical care, and employment initiatives help with the damage from the war. But for women and children kidnapped by the rebel group, re-entering society is extremely difficult. Nancy* was one of these abductees, and she was brave enough to tell us her story.
Nancy was just 12 years old when she was kidnapped in 2003. She was taken from a village about 25km north of Gulu town, during a night invasion by the LRA.
"There is a boy from my village who joined the rebel group (LRA),” Nancy told Peace News.
“He was asked to write the names of all the girls he knew from the village,” she said.
“Unluckily, my name was first on the list. He wrote a total of eight names, all were girls. We were then invaded in the night, they had torches. Whosoever the boy identified on the list had their hands tied. A lot more people were abducted that night but their interest was girls."
Nancy said she was forced into military training with the LRA, and spent 2 years as their captive. At one point during her captivity, she said two of her friends tried to escape, but they were recaptured before they got too far. Nancy said she and six other girls were forced to execute the escapees by stoning them to death.
Eventually, Nancy and another friend were able to escape, running away early one morning and hiding in a nearby plantation field. She made it to a military camp, where she spent a month before moving to the Gulu Support the Children Organization for further rehabilitation.
After returning, Nancy said she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. She would hallucinate about being back in captivity and the stress eventually lead to her dropping out of secondary school. She moved to another town to avoid retribution from the murdered girls' families.
"My mother did not take me back to the home where I was abducted because life would not be easy for me,” Nancy said.
“At the new home we went to, no one knew me," she said.
"Sometimes if you talk about this sort of a story, people will judge you differently, others will despise you and others will think of you as a murderer. There are others who had their relatives abducted and never returned and yet I did return. So some people will not be happy about you and could consider you as an accomplice to the rebels and their evil activity yet I never was abducted at will."
Despite what she has been through, Nancy is still positive and said she forgives her captors.
"On the issue of forgiveness, I forgave them because I never want to judge anyone, you can never know the circumstances under which a person joined the rebel group so I cannot hold any grudge against anyone."
Nancy has met with former-LRA members and said she hopes for a better future for both victims and former fighters.
"When I see them return, I am glad they will start a brand new life like the way I have tried to restart mine."
The LRA is still active in areas of Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo where they kidnapped 728 people in the last year alone.