Bosco, Age 25 (A pseudonym has been used and his photo is omitted because of the sensitive nature of this story)
“Tell the world, so they may hear our voices and help us,” Bosco told me as he shook my hand and began to stand up from his seat at the interview table. I took a deep breath, making a concerted effort to contain my emotions. I thanked him for his willingness to share, and forced a smile when I wished I could offer a hug to him and the several other youth I would talk to over the course of the day.
When I was twelve, I was awoken one night by the sound of angry voices outside of my hut. A man with a gun forced his way inside and ordered my two older brothers and me to march into the bush. With the sounds of our mother wailing behind us, we disappeared into the tall grasses surrounding our family’s compound, each carrying upon our heads the massive load of cargo we had been given by LRA fighters.
By the early hours of the morning, tiredness overcame my two brothers. When one whispered to the other that he could not go on without rest or water, a commander spoke up: “it looks like two people among us need to be laid to rest, for they have shown they are too tired. Kill them!” I looked away, as my two siblings were beaten and then cut to death.
As the brigade moved on, we spotted another homestead. “Now it is time to see if you have the strong heart of a soldier,” my commander told me. I stood at a distance as other boys were sent in to raid the group of huts. Within minutes, they returned with a man—about forty years old, by the looks of him. I was ordered to beat him to death with a stick. At first, I wanted to refuse, but I knew what would happen to me if I did.
After a while, we left our homeland behind, escaping Ugandan government forces and finding refuge in Sudan. In the land of the Dinka [the cattle herding warrior people of Southern Sudan], we struggled to survive. Hunger and thirst were everywhere. Many boys died and I was sent with eighteen others to loot a Dinka encampment for food. We knew the order would result in a fight.
As we approached the Dinka’s mud brick settlement, gunfire rang out from in front of us. Eleven of the boys were killed and the rest of us fled in all directions from the soaring bullets.
Eight of us returned to our camp with no food. Six had lost their guns in the process, and were ordered by our commanders to be killed for the mistake. I escaped death only narrowly by agreeing to join a brigade returning to Uganda.
My new company received strict orders from Joseph Kony [the LRA’s mystic leader]: “when you reach Uganda, anything that is found living should be killed.” Under this command, we gathered and murdered one hundred thirteen civilians as we marched from Gulu to Pabo Sub-county.
The killings in Pabo were the final straw for me. I became quiet, distant, and unresponsive. My superiors noticed my changed behavior and commanded me to eat from the flesh of our next abductee so I could gain the strength of two men. I was spared this fate when another commander decided this would take too much time. Instead, I received 100 strokes and marched on.
I knew that night, I must escape. I no longer feared death and knew I could not continue as I was.
In the middle of the night, I faked the need to use the restroom. I grabbed my gun and thirty-two bullets, and set off running into the bush.
Six soldiers chased after me. When I had gained some distance, I climbed a tree, grabbed my gun and shot the rounds until each of the six fell below the grassline.
I threw my weapon and prayed I would never use one again. I found a shallow well nearby and crawled within, waiting quietly for sunrise.
Local leaders received me with apprehension, turning me over to the Ugandan government’s army. After being handed from one barracks to another, I was finally reunited with my parents after five years in captivity.
My happiness and newfound freedom lasted only a short while. Days after returning home, I was in town when members of the LRA went to my homestead looking for me. When they didn’t find me there, they killed my father and left my mother badly beaten and unconscious.
My road to recovery has been long. Some people in town bully and torment me, telling me to call on my dead father for help, or fight back like I would have done in the bush.
After the death of my father, I lost all hope to live. I preferred to remain quiet, spending most of my time alone… until I heard of the Acholibur Peace Club.
I wanted to know peace myself and to create it for others. Now, when I start to feel un-free, burdened by anger or sadness, I go to the Peace Club. It is helping me forget about my past experiences and create a new life rooted in peace.
Members of the Peace Club helped me talk to my mother. Now, we understand one another and have a good relationship.
We [child soldiers] lost out on our education along with our youth. Without skills, we will always be poor.
My story is really like so many others. Around here, you will hear the same thing over and over again. The youth need the world’s support so we can continue our educations and work to rebuild our lives.