Former Ugandan Child Soldier Speaks

On Tuesday night, in a room at Boston College crowded with students eager to hear her words, Grace Akello, author of Girl Solider, shared her story.  She began by showing a brief video, which gave an overview of the treacherous war in northern Uganda and highlighted the plight of the innocent “children caught in the crossfire.”  International support, such as that by World Vision, has helped to bring hope to the situation but, in a country like Uganda where “amber alerts” do not exist, children remain in danger even today.

“My name Akello,” Grace said, “means ‘jumping over problems.”  It seems almost too ironic that she was given such a name at birth, unknowingly foreshadowing the trying issues she would later be faced with.  On Independence Day, the first day Akello and her classmates were told it was safe enough to sleep at school, one hundred and thirty-nine girls were abducted during the night by the LRA.  “The people who came to abduct us…they were young…they were children,” Akello said.  “They were not human beings when they were killing...they were animals.”  The girls were taken to Sudan where the LRA had its operations base.  There, Akello was tuned into a soldier and forced to kill simply to survive.  

One day, driven by a desperate hope of escaping, Akello ran away.  She “walked away by [herself]” without a plan, without money and without anyone by her side.   A group of children found her and began to ask questions.  “Do you really want to die here?” one girl asked her.  “No,” Akello answered, “I’m not going to die here…I’m going back to Uganda.”

Akello’s story is one which many abducted children could only hope to someday tell.  Some children are lucky and are able to find their way out of the bush and back into their communities.  Others are not so lucky and still remain in the LRA’s hands today.  “[In Uganda,] we need justice and peace,” Akello said.  When asked about her position on the ICC’s intervention, she said that, although she respects the international attempt to seek justice, “international help is sometimes too late.” Justice, she explained, can be brought in “different ways.”  Amnesty and traditional forms of justice, such as those we learned about in the readings that discussed mato oput and other customs, are “good,” Akello said.  “But what kind of peace is [found] when the perpetrators are in the community?  What kind of peace is that?”  Rather than a revenge-driven justice, Akello hopes that a justice can be found in which those who are committing the atrocities will “admit what [they have] done and serve something” rather than simply being allowed back into the community and, even in some cases, given positions of power.  Justice must be found but, for now, Akello believes, “peace is at the top of [the] priority list…making peace and finding justice [will] heal [this torn] community.”

“This is the world that we live in today,” she said.  “[People are] enjoying killing and getting away with it.”  But Akello did not come to BC to share a story of sadness, of a situation pulled down into the depths of dark despair.  Rather, she came to share a story- her story- of hope.  “I believe I survived for a purpose,” she said.  Using her powerful story, she called each of us to push for a peace that is possible even in the direst situations.  “If we don’t work on it, the future is very, very bleak…we are the future leaders…how are we going to be able to lead people who are conflicted and afflicted by so much pain?  How are [we] going to unity people?  We have to work for humanity… the [very] humanity that is being destroyed.  This is the time to take responsibility- to restore justice, to restore peace.  People like you, your voices, give me hope,” Akello said.  Together, we can step up against the atrocities, again the fighting, to find a peace that will reign over all hatred.  Together, we can find peace.



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