In the turbulent warfare of our world, children are suffering the trauma of being used as soldiers for guerrilla and government armies alike. This has been the tragic case in northern Uganda, where children have been abducted in their thousands from schools and villages to swell the ranks of the LRA, a rebel army that terrorised the region for over twenty years.
What we are doing
This army, led by Joseph Kony, forced children to commit atrocities, which have left deep, debilitating wounds in their lives. Short-term reception centres were set up to meet these children’s immediate needs and reunite them with their families. There is very little in place now, however, to assist with their ongoing struggles and that is why we are establishing a long-term response to this injustice. We will provide ex-child soldiers with vocational training alongside therapy and care, acknowledging the deep trauma they have suffered.
How we are doing it
Third Hope’s aim is to weave learning and therapy into the daily life of the ex-child soldiers who will be involved in the village in the following ways. We intend to offer two to three years of vocational training during which they will live in a caring, healing community. We will then help support them in finding employment and monitor their progress for the first few years in the workplace.
Vocational training: A vision for the future
“Education forms people of love, care and compassion with a deep sense of hope, who appreciate beauty and wonder and who will serve the world by their gifts.”
One of the keys to hope is being able to imagine a future. True vocational training is more than teaching people a skill. Alongside a vocation we hope to instil a vision of how the world could be if we respect and care for one another and our environment. We intend to set up enterprises in the village that model a fair and better future.
This education will be enhanced by a course we have put together called ‘The Politics of Hope’, enabling these children to understand what they have been through in the context of universal factors that affect our world. Empowered by this learning, we hope to encourage their capacity to influence those factors and to be catalysts of change in society.
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
Creating a home: Living Circles
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
When in the army child soldiers are often placed in small combat units, enabling their commanders to keep control. Some children, who escape rebel armies, at risk of their lives, return after several months to those armed forces. The reasons seem to be that they feel isolated in large reception centres where there is a lack of both discipline and close-knit friendship groups. We have noted, when researching this issue, that it is common for ex-military staff to find it difficult when re-integrating into civilian life and this is heightened in the context of child-soldiers.
This learning led us to develop the concept of a village, comprising of buildings we are calling Living Circles that house thirty to forty people. These small, communal units will create strong friendship ties that affirm healthy relationships, aiding recovery and reintegration into the local community.
We are also planning a full and challenging day, balanced with activities and rest, to steer
their bodies, minds and emotions towards wholeness.
“These were fourteen-year-olds who were going on twenty-five, who were still very much in charge and who were not going to buy into any simplistic rehab programme delivered by adults, no matter how well-meaning. They were seeking much more than just a short-term return programme to social normality. They could influence and they could command, and they demanded recognition of the power, the potential and the respect they had earned over years in the bush. They could spell the success or failure of any programme; to work effectively with them, the adults needed to realise who they were dealing with, and figure out how to help these youths find a path away from brutal addiction to power, toward using their powers of leadership to beneficial ends.”
‘They fight like Soldiers, They Die like Children.’ Romeo Dallaire
Romeo Dallaire was UN General in Rwanda at the time of the Genocide and experienced
Agriculture: Healing the Land – Healing the Heart
“Far from being a quaint throwback to an earlier time, organic agriculture is proving to be a serious contender in modern farming and a more environmentally sustainable system over the long term.”
We have sought to establish this work in a rural area for we believe ecological ways of farming and tending the land are essential for the recovery of young people who have lived with the destructive forces of war. We hope that restoring the land will give dignity back to child soldiers and provide them with a means through which they can become agents of healing and hope to the wider community who are also recovering from the ravages of war, who can in turn learn to make their land more productive.
We want also to foster a respect and care for animals who, when well looked after, have the capacity to develop powerful bonds with humans. Theirs is a communication without words or judgement. Anyone with a deeply painful past can find significant healing from the trusting nature of an animal.
“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticism.”
Trauma Counseling: Hope for Change
“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate, making the present comfortable and the future promising.”
Trauma hinders child soldiers from functioning effectively in the community when they return from war. Some are mute for months, even years after they return, and they all experience nightmares which disturb their sleep. Daily life in the village will offer an understanding that there is a journey through trauma and will teach the steps needed to move into a free, more self-aware way of life that is able to imagine the future and be prepared for its challenges.
“Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.”
Dr Dale Turner
Arts Therapy: Rediscovering a Voice
“Theatre is an arena in which man has attempted to come to terms with his being.”
The project will draw strongly on the rich Ugandan heritage of music, dance and drama and explore how human expression through the Arts can aid recovery from trauma. We believe Arts therapy will enable these children to find a voice, empowering them to communicate the injustice they have been through, using paintings, songs, dances and theatre pieces to explore the nature of their suffering. We have built a small amphitheatre where these pieces can be performed to visitors and the local community.
“Theatre is suffused with freedom, it democratises the individual and respects human dignity.”
Sports Therapy: Trust and Co-operation
“Sport is a preserver of health.”
Sports and physical training will be a significant part of the day in the Third Hope village. Regular sports activities will enable these children to sustain physical fitness, experiencing the way it helps the mind and body. Sports and Adventure Activities, exploring the beauty of the nation they live in, will also be employed as a means of establishing trust and team co-operation. In this way we hope to counter the effects of having lived under the tyranny and fear of war.
“Sport is singularly able to give us peak experiences where we feel completely one with the world and transcend all conflicts as we finally become our own potential.”
George A. Sheehan
Where we are
We are pioneering this work in northern Uganda, a region that has been deeply affected by the injustice of child-soldiers. We sought a rural environment, as we believe a peaceful setting, away from the distractions of the town, will provide the best backdrop for healing. We are around 20km south east of Gulu, the main town of the region.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”