NATIONAL DEFENSE

Rebuilding lives after war devastation

In the midst of the civil war that has devastated northern Uganda for more than two decades, Milly Auma is helping women who were once held captive by the Lord’s Resistance Army return to their communities and rebuild their lives. She was kidnapped by the LRA at the age of thirteen. After ten years in the bush, she escaped with her two children (who were born in captivity). When she returned to her home, she was shocked to find that her trials were far from over. Her community feared and rejected her and tormented her children. She soon found that other women returnees were facing the same discrimination. Consequently, she dedicated herself to mending broken relationships between formerly abducted women and their home communities.

Through guidance and counseling programs, Auma uses her personal experience to provide psychosocial support and to build an environment of understanding and acceptance for returnees. By staging plays with themes developed around their experiences in the bush, she tries to generate empathy for these young women and break down strong barriers of mistrust and hatred. Through her organization Empowering Hands, Milly Auma has also established an economic development program that supports formerly abducted women and other IDPs alike. She and her colleagues have currently replicated their model in five camps in the Gulu and Amuru Districts in northern Uganda and are serving over 1,200 people. As the war ends and more women return from captivity, they plan to spread their work throughout the region’s 500 IDP camps, fighting for change in one of the world’s most neglected humanitarian crisis zones.

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Notes from the field