D   W   O   G         P   A   C   O           reintegrating female former child soldiers in northern Uganda

CHRISTINE

Okengkuc  was the little boy’s name.

It means ‘missing something good or fun’, explained Christine.

In Acholi culture a birth name often describes the circumstances of birth or the state of the family at the time of birth. The name Otto suggested that many brothers and sisters had died; Oketch means that one was born during a famine; Odoki means that the mother had threatened to go back to her parents; Bongomin means without brothers; Olanya means that the mother felt abandoned.

Okengkuc  is Christine’s second-born. She said she called him that because of the problems she was having at the time.

“Life was not easy when I came back from the bush. I did not have a husband, and I had no money…There was a lot of insults and finger-pointing. People in the village tell each man who wants to make love to you, that you are a formerly abducted woman, that you have problems.”

Christine was abducted at 15, and spent three years in the bush. She now has five children aged 3 to 16 – each with a different man. Her eldest, Kenneth, was just a baby when she escaped from the LRA. He too has had to endure hereditary or secondary stigmatization. Just a baby when his mother fled the bush, he too is painted as a rebel in the community.

“He is supposed to have a good life, but people keep pointing him out in the streets saying ‘look at the rebel’. If he gets angry with anyone, they say that he has the mentality of his father in the bush. The mentality of his father who killed people.”

Christine said that men will now only come to her at night for sex – they risk ridicule if they go during daytime.

For Christine embodies a number of taboos in Acholi society. She is not only dwog paco; she is a single mother; someone who lost their virginity before marriage. As a result she has no chance of attracting a potential husband – someone to love, someone to support her.

“I didn’t even have enough to buy clothes for my children. I even considered killing them with rat poison.”

But she said that a local orphanage called PAORINHER saved her. The organization not only helps orphans of war, but also formerly abducted women. The centre in Patongo is a refuge for these women who have undergone similar traumatic experiences.

In addition PAORINHER introduced the women to ‘boli cup’ – a kind of savings and loan association. Each woman puts what they can over a period of months. Members then take turns to withdraw a lump sum to either pursue a business venture, to pay school fees or medication. They then have a set period to pay it back.

“The group members have supported me. Now I feel life is easier. I don’t know what I would have done without this group…I now run a piggery [started with ‘boli cup’ money] and now I sell pigs in the market at a profit.”

But in January 2012, I was told that all of Christine’s pigs had died. She has now lost her sole source of income and she gave birth to a sixth child in February.

In March 2012, she sent me this letter outlining all the problems she is continuing to face.

She’s now not sure how she find the 230,000 shillings [$92] to pay for Kenneth’s school fees – let alone pay back the money to the ‘boli cup’. Christine is also embroiled in a land wrangle with her neighbours.

She showed me a couple of photos she took. Without context, they don’t strike you as unusual. In them, you see a man leading his cattle through the Ugandan countryside.

But Christine told me this man lets his cattle eat her crops, and is trying to force her off her family land. She has told the police and the village officials. No one seems to care.

She is a woman. She is dwog paco.

“They are squeezing me out of my garden. I go by the law and not the traditional ways [whereby land is only passed through the male bloodline]. I have children to take care of, I feed them from that land. Where do they expect me to take these children?”

Christine said she has no one to defend her. Her brother is a drunkard, her parents were killed in the war, and her other distant relatives are also vying for the land she lives on.

For Christine, life is still  okengkuc.