UNICEF correspondent David McKenzie reports on the story of 15-year-old Prossy, who was abducted by rebels and held for two years.
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The Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have resumed talks in Juba, Southern Sudan, to end the 20-year insurgency that has left over 1 million displaced. Here is the second report in a two-part series about the impact of the conflict on Ugandan girls’ right to education.
GULU, Uganda, 2 January 2007 – At 15, Prossy Anena is a typical Ugandan girl. She has just finished primary school, she helps her mother pick sweet potatoes and she cooks for her six siblings.
But Prossy is also typical of many girls in northern Uganda in that she was abducted from her village by the LRA and spent two years in captivity.
Fear of abduction
In the 20 years of war in northern Uganda, the LRA has terrorized civilians, burnt and looted villages, and brought development to a standstill. And to worldwide condemnation, they have destroyed families by abducting over 20,000 children. Many thousands of the abductees are girls, who live in fear in these regions.
“I was abducted from our village in Unyama,” says Prossy. “They took about 11 children and the rebels decided to release some of them. But I was one of those not released.”
For two years Prossy did not see her family. She became a babysitter for the commanders’ children, a porter during the long treks and a looter when they ran out of food. “I was so scared all of the time,” she recalls.
In the bush, Prossy’s normal development ceased. “I missed my education the most, because in the bush no education was provided,” she says.
Getting girls back in school
Uganda’s formerly abducted children face many serious challenges. The LRA often take them before they are of school age and then keep them for years. Girls are forced to marry rebels, and when they escape they don’t go to school because they have children.
Centres like those operated by GUSCO help get the girls back in school. The centres attempt to bridge the gap opened by abduction. Social workers provide counselling and education, and search for living relatives of the children.
But the struggle for girls is not over when their family members are found. Often they face stigma for having been with the LRA. If they have had children from the rebels, this problem is compounded.
‘Education is wealth’
Prossy seemed destined to stay with the LRA, but a stray shot saved her. The LRA forces holding her were attacked by the Ugandan Army. In the ensuing chaos, Prossy was shot in the foot. The rebels left her for dead and continued fleeing. The Ugandan soldiers helped Prossy get out of the conflict zone and eventually dropped her off at the GUSCO centre in Gulu.
Prossy was reunited with her family, who now live near Gulu in a temporary homestead. After missing two years of education, she went back to finish primary school. Now she wants to go to high school and ultimately work as a nurse, because it pays better than a teaching job.
“I see today that education is wealth,” she says. “It will mean I’ll be able to support my parents.”