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 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 weaves learning and therapy into the daily life of the ex-child soldiers who come to the Model Farm in the following ways. We offer two to three years of vocational training during which they learn and work in a caring, healing community. We 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
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 are in the process of setting up enterprises in the village that model a fair and better future.
“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.”
Many of the ex-child soldiers we are working with have now been back in the community for several years, and some of the early intensity has worn off of their trauma responses. This has not led to healing, but rather to a deep burying of these traumas as they struggle to cope with the daily challenges caused by the loss of their education, coupled with the lack of access to food security, employment and health-care provision. Because of these multiple challenges, the deep emotional healing they need cannot happen in a day – and it cannot happen in a vacuum. It has to be provided alongside training in restorative farming, natural medicines, sustainable business practices and arts therapies. Each year group work intensively together, forming strong friendship groups that affirm healthy relationships, aiding recovery and reintegration into the local community.
We provide them with a full and challenging day, balanced with activities, reflection 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.
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. Our training offers an understanding that there is a journey through this trauma. It helps them navigate their way towards the steps needed to move into a free, more self-aware way of living that is able to imagine the future and be prepared for its challenges.
Arts Therapy: Rediscovering a Voice
The project draws on a rich heritage of music, dance and drama and explores how human expression through the Arts can aid recovery from trauma. We believe Arts therapy will enable these young people to find a voice, empowering them to communicate the injustice they have been through, using painting, song, dance and theatre 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 activities form an enjoyable and significant part of life in the Third Hope village. Regular sports activities enable these young adults 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.
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. The village is about 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.”