Last month I had the amazing honour of giving a lecture to a first-year women and gender studies class at Laurier University. I was asked to speak about WOW, who we are, what we do, as well as my roll and how I got involved. The very early 8:30 am class was nearly full as I shared the inspirational stories of three WOW local champions: one from each of the countries we serve (Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia).  All were single women.

Given that the Christmas season is upon us, and for us at WOW, that means our WOW Christmas campaign is in full swing, I would like to share with you one of those stories; the story of Alice Achan and what she has done to help the plight of war-brides in northern Uganda (since WOW Christmas supports her ministry).

Alice was one of 27 children, born to a father who practised polygamy in northern Uganda during the height of the LRA insurgency during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. According to Allison N Martin, who wrote her dissertation on the re-integration of the Ugandan war brides, during this 20-plus year period of civil war and political unrest, it is estimated that 25,000 children were abducted and 300,000 civilians killed (Martin 1). In fact, in 2003, the UN declared northern Uganda one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world (1). Boys and girls were forced to be soldiers, and often desensitized when forced to kill family or community members.

Alice has committed to complete her education, despite being moved from school to school to evade LRA occupation and kidnappings. She completed her high school education at the late age of 23 and began working as a counsellor in a camp for Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP).

While there, Alice witnessed hundreds of young girls returning from captivity who were pregnant, nursing, or had young children born during their captivity. To her surprise, rather than their families embracing them and celebrating the return of these girls, they experienced harassment and abuse in the camps, as they were seen as the mothers of rebel soldier’s children.

Alice therefore saw the need of a reception centre and gathered about her a group of Christian women who worked together to open one. Essentially, the reception centre would offer a short term stay for girls in order to offer them some counselling and help them find and educate their families to re-integrate them into their former communities.

It was in the midst of this re-integration process that Alice recognized another barrier for these girls; they were rejected from the education system. Girls who were pregnant or nursing were not permitted in schools. Likewise, girls with babies and toddlers were reluctant to leave their children to attend classes. Rejected and isolated from their communities, girls often became targeted for sexual assault and prostitution (48). Therefore, Alice saw the need to open a school with a quality child care centre, so the girls could complete their educations. She also saw the need for a vocational school which would teach hospitality management and culinary arts. In 2008, Alice opened Pader Girls Academy with one humble school room, one dormitory, and a child care centre with 65 students. Today the academy boasts over 250 students, a vocational school, a restaurant, and a hospitality centre. Pader Academy is ranked second school in their district for exams, and graduates attend some of the top universities in Uganda.

Alice also opened a second school in Purongo; Nwoya Girls Academy which is supported by our generous WOW Christmas donors. WOW Christmas supports 50 elementary school aged children and 20 secondary level children, covering the costs of uniforms, school fees and supplies. We also support the facilitation of Bible reading clubs in schools, and a four day Christmas camp.

Some facts:

  • Human Rights Watch 2007 estimated 200-300,000 children were military service on rebel and government forces in more than 20 countries (1)
  • In 2003 70% of prisoners at juvenile crime institutions in Gulu District were child soldiers (30)
  • In 2008, 1.3 million people were living in 30 IDP camps in northern Uganda without sanitation or water. Often unprotected by the government—this is where the child soldiers were abducted (30)
  • Between 1990-2003 girls were a part of military forces in 55 countries (30)
  • Girls abducted by the LRA were typically held captive longer than boys; if held in Sudan captivity would be between 7-15 years, if in Uganda less than 3 years (81)
  • Only 60% of released or escaped war brides in Uganda went through reception centres (60)
  • It takes 1-2 years to re-integrate child soldiers in to their communities (118)

Martin, Allison N., “Exploring the Reintegration Process for Child Soldiers: A Case Study of Young Women and their Children in Northern Uganda” (2009). eses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 917.
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