The war in northern Uganda lasted for over two decades (1986-2006). The rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, fought to overthrow the secular government and rule the country by the Biblical Ten Commandments. But what made the LRA so unique and tragic is that the majority of those who fought in its ranks were children.
During the twenty years of war, an estimated 35,000 boys and girls were dragged from their homes, schools and villages, tied up and marched to rebel hideouts deep in the bush. There they were initiated into the Army's cult-like culture through a combination of religious indoctrination, traumatizing abuse, and forced participation in extremely brutal violence. Often these child soldiers were forced to kill fellow abducted children, burn and loot villages and maim civilians—in some instances even their own families. Fear and total dependency upon their captors burdened many of the abducted children to yield, internalize and adopt the violent culture of the rebels. Additionally many of the female children were given to the rebel commanders as "wives" and forced to produce more children: a new generation descended from brutality.
To establish power and widespread fear among those who refused to show explicit support for them, Kony and his rebels mainly targeted civilians, employing massacres of the most horrifying nature. Fathers, mothers, and infants were killed, dismembered by machetes or burned to "rid the land of evil spirits." This campaign of terror resulted in over 100,000 deaths, thousands of maimed and wounded, and one and a half million people being forced to live in squalid displaced-persons camps. To make matters worse, the southern-ruled government was widely accused of amplifying the crisis through years of complacency and indifference. In 2006, Jan Egeland, former United Nations Special Advisor to the Secretary General, expressed that the situation in northern Uganda had evolved into "the world's greatest neglected humanitarian crisis."
Since 2006, the war however has settled into a precarious impasse. As a result of an increased military campaign by the Ugandan government, attacks and abductions by the rebels have slowly waned. Kony and his army have moved their base of operations across the border into eastern Congo, where they remain to this day.
In the heart of this uncertainty between peace and war, life and death, hope and hopelessness, many child soldiers have re-emerged from the war either through miraculous escapes or by being captured during battles. Transferred directly to Rehabilitation Centers from the battlefields, these boys and girls undergo the formidable process of healing into a life beyond war. Most carry with them the emotional and psychological burdens of a stained youth, reflected in symptoms of distrust, severe guilt, fear, self-contempt, nightmares, and despair. But as survivors many exhibit a haunting yet impassioned honesty far beyond their years.
For TGAL 2006, BEAN partnered with Gulu Walk to raise awarness about this on-going crisis and raise money to benefit the International Rescue Committee.