Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Still So Far to Go

“Have you heard the story of Angelina of Aboke?” Francesca, a woman who works at the Uganda Fund, asked me. I nodded that I had, having just completed the book Aboke Girls a few days before.

“Well, do you know what happened once Angelina’s daughter returned? It was such a shame, so, so sad.”

Angelina was the mother of one of 139 girls who were abducted in a one night LRA raid of a prestigious Catholic girl’s school in Aboke, Northern Uganda. Angelina became a leader of the movement to return the girls from LRA captivity, speaking out for peace and forgiveness from the capital city of Kampala to the White House. For her courage and dedication to peace building, Angelina received several awards, including the UN Prize in Human Rights.

Angelina’s daughter, Charlotte, had been forced to marry one of the highest officers of the LRA. “He was an evil, evil man,” Francesca told me, shaking her head with pity. “He was known for being so bad. Angelina knew this from the intelligence reports, and even that her daughter had become mother to two of his children while in the bush.

“Still, she preached the gospel of forgiveness, encouraging families to accept their abducted children back in the home.

“But when her own daughter finally returned, after more than seven years in captivity, it was too much for her to bear. She looked at those little children and she just hated them, really hated them. She hated them so much because of what that evil man had done, that she could no longer accept her daughter in her home.

“And she had been the leader of the reconciliation movement, the preacher of forgiveness.”

I looked away, saddened by the news of the heroine I admired.

After a long pause, Francesca continued, “In time, Angelina received counseling and was able to accept the children back. But my point is, even for the woman who was most strongly advocating for reconciliation, the process was difficult. There is still so far to go, so far to go in healing Uganda.”

From the girls at PGA, I have learned that many families, influenced by cultural mores and traditions, could not bear the idea of accepting illegitimate children or their child mothers. In some of the worst cases—usually girls forced to marry highly ranked rebel commanders—they were disowned by their clan, blamed as complicit in the LRA’s violence. As a result, these girls face the challenge of starting completely anew, some uniting resources to buy their own plot of land to start a new clan altogether.

“But there is so much hope,” Alice interjected, not wanting to leave the conversation on a sour note. “The girls they are confident…when people mock them for being mothers, they respond that they will perform even better. I’ll give you an example. When the Academy first opened, our girls would play against other schools, and they would be taunted, with the other team shouting ‘mothers, mothers, mothers.’ At first this really demoralized them, but they found the courage to continue playing through the chants, and eventually won game after game, securing the championship title from the District. Now, no one dares mock them as ‘mothers,’ and the girls know that despite the challenges they’ve faced, they can do as well or better than their peers. They have so much commitment and so much hope.”

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