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

JENNIFER

Come with me – let’s go meet Jennifer.

Jennifer’s story started out like all the others I’d heard from the formerly abducted women of Uganda.

Abducted at a young age by the LRA. Trained to fight in Sudan. Given as a wife at 14. A wife and soldier both for ten, long years. Rejected by her own family and community upon her return.

“My family feared me when I came back…one of my brothers did not allow his daughter to spend time with me fearing I would teach her how to become a prostitute…and the community felt that I was the one leading the LRA rebels to our village to come and abduct children during the conflict…some of the village members say that they saw me among the rebels, and yet I was in Sudan at that time.”

But Jennifer’s story had a unique twist to it.

While at the World Vision reception centre in Gulu, she met a man that she knew from her own LRA faction, Christopher. They now have four children together and are happily married.

Trust me, this is unusual.

The other 39 women I spoke to in Uganda are either single parents – their husbands either still with the LRA or having left their wives because of their past as rebels.

Jennifer said that as a former rebel her husband understands what she’s been through.

“There are many women in this community who were also in the bush. They came back and got married to men who had never been abducted and have now gone through two husbands. These men got involved with these women because of your belongings [amnesty money] and then, after a while, they’d start insulting you about your life in the bush and leave you. But Christopher cannot do that to me. He experienced the same things as me. If he insults me, I will insult him back because we were both in the bush.”

Furthermore, he has accepted her first child who was fathered by her bush husband.

“If you develop feelings for a woman who has a child, then you should also have love for that child too. The Acholi say, ‘Min kidi man ki nyaa kidi ne’ or ‘a bigger stone made for grinding goes with the little one’. I cannot deny her because of the child.”

What’s also unusual is that he helps with the household chores and the kids. This isn’t the norm in a society where the man rules the roost.

She seemed surprised when I told her she’s fortunate compared to the other women I’ve spoken to.

Between them they just about make ends meet.

“I do tailoring at a local church making dolls. They promise to pay us every two weeks but there isn’t always money. We are paid 30,000 shillings [$12] a week…Christopher is a boda-boda [motorcycle taxi] driver. He has to rent the motorcycle for 10,000 shillings [$4] a day.”

But Jennifer said it’s difficult to support their family on this income. Renting the motorbike is a big drain, because she said that the first 10,000 shillings each day must first go back to the owner of the motorcycle. Many days Christopher doesn’t get many customers. Towns like Gulu are inundated with boda drivers, many of whom are also former child soldiers.

Three of Jennifer’s children are old enough to attend school. She said she cannot pay the school fees for all the children. The fees range from 10,000-80,000 shillings [$4 - $32] a term depending on the school and age group.

“Some people say that those who have come back are lucky because the government or NGOs have helped them…but to me that is not luck, because being lucky is when somebody gives you land and there’s a house built for you…to me it is not luck having to live on someone else’s land. At any time they can send me away from their land.”

I asked her to name any challenges she’s overcome, or successes, since she’d returned from the bush.

She smiled coyly.

I’ve been at peace since I’ve met my husband, she said.