Rebuilding in Lango

Rebuilding in Lango

Revd Laurence Pusey

Rebuilding is in full swing. Lango, along with most of northern Uganda, has suffered 40 years of war and pestilence – Idi Amin, civil war, wholesale cattle rustling which destroyed the economy, AIDS and latterly the terrorist group, the so called ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ which abducted or killed an estimated 20,000 children to replenish their fighters and sex slaves. The brutality of the LRA is too obscene to be dwelt on here except to say that one girl in a prayer line told me that 13 of her friends had been killed in front of her. Why was she spared? Probably because she was pretty. At the height of the trouble Lira’s mayor told me that two captured terrorists brought to his office for questioning had not the slightest idea why they were fighting.

All this, as well as the forced displacement into security camps, has seriously inhibited progress. Education, agriculture and health have all suffered along with the clan traditions which fostered morality, wellbeing and a sense of identity. In an earlier visit to Lango I could not understand why so many strong young men in a senior school were suffering from chest pains; only as it was explained what was going on did I realise the stress these lads were under; every day and every night they and their parents risked death or kidnapping. Many, of course, had already lost parents/siblings.  All this while the U.N. and the world looked away. Even southern Uganda looked away. I was shocked when one friend from Kampala dismissed the terrorism as a “family dispute” (the Acholi and the Langi being ethnically related).

Now though, with the withdrawal of the LRA into the DRC, there is a new era and rebuilding is in full swing. Schools are bursting at the seams, clinics are going up and crops are going in. It was a pleasure to hear one tutor at The Lira College of Agriculture enthusing about his subject and the almost limitless possibilities in a spacious land blessed with rich soil. Traffic is building up too as the economy stutters into life and goods are shuttled down to Kampala and even exported around the world. But there remains a long way to go in pulling society back together and raising levels of education and artisan skills. There is great need for psychosocial counselling, the trauma of recent years having left their scars on broken marriages and brutalised children. Many such children have escaped or been demobilised from the LRA. They have suffered unimaginable trauma, being repeatedly raped, beaten and forced to kill. Those involved in their rehabilitation report the need for a long process of love and patience. They can ‘play’ violently or even ‘snap’ when under stress, reverting to old patterns of behaviour. Some progress is being made with art therapy in small groups, encouraging young people to draw and paint their experiences and their desires for the future; it has proved very effective as they explain their pictures, but trained facilitators are few.

The depths of poverty are easily missed by the casual visitor. One man from Lira explained, “You can live for free in Uganda, all you need is a mud hut and some cassava; but when you have to pay for education or medicine you are defeated”. One schoolgirl asking for prayer admitted candidly that she was a child prostitute “not by choice”. A teacher of English in a primary school had an impressive command of the language: asked why she was not working in secondary education, her answer was, “I have no money for that level of training”. Much is being done with microfinancing and training in enterprise but there is danger of a whole generation being lost.

Mention must be made of the invaluable work put in by Aceng Emma Okite presenting her psychosocial sessions on local radio. In rural areas the radio is almost the only way of keeping in touch with current events and has a large following so when Okite launched her ‘Gender Programme” on Radio Rhino in 2006 it had a huge impact. For the first time women and girls heard others talking of the same traumas and stresses that they were facing but, even more importantly, relating how they overcame them. Topics covered include domestic violence, post-traumatic stress, child abuse, child sacrifice, rape and AIDS. Many are the examples of girls infused with hope as they at last listened to others who were further along the same road to recovery.

So rebuilding is in full swing. The Church of Uganda is playing a full and strategic role. As fast as is possible, carpentry, tailoring, bricklaying and hospitality courses are being set up and many young people thus enabled to earn a living. This of course runs alongside the church schools which have long been in place. We can thank those who a century ago first built a church and then next to it a school. The authority structures and lines of communication of the church down through the parishes make it a force for stability, education and citizenship which can hold Lango in particular and the country as a whole in good stead.

At a recent mission the youth team impressed me with their love and commitment to Jesus. A night of prayer for the mission finished at 6.00 am: at 11.00am they were up and out again for outreach to the local compounds. With young people so enthusiastic the future of the church looks in good hands.

Peace and stability, however, bring new dangers, less obvious and more subtle. Modernity is fast approaching. TV stations are always straining for worldly drama, mobile and smart phones open up new vistas on the internet, not always for good. Prosperity brings new temptations and greed is always at the heart of man. The church in the west has largely failed this examination: it is losing its hold on Scripture and shrinking. It could be the African church that drags it back to faith and the Bible.

Acknowledgement is made to “Cold Water: women and girls of Lira, Uganda”  Editors: Jody Lynn McBrien and Julia Gentleman Byers.   Fountain Publishers.     

Revd Laurence Pusey is a chaplain at Leeds University and a regular visitor to Apac and Lira Diocese.