Landmine victim now the hope for others

Saturday January 28 2012

Ms Margaret Arach Orech, the founder and

Ms Margaret Arach Orech, the founder and director of Uganda Landmine Survivors Association and also the Ambassador of the International Campaign to ban landmines narrates her ordeal Photo by Sarah Tumwebaze 

By Sarah Tumwebaze

On December 22, 1998, we were travelling from Kitgum to Kampala. I sat at the front of a minibus and had a 50 kilogramme bag of oranges between my legs. The journey was quiet and smooth.
But about 20 minutes from Kitgum Town, suddenly an explosion went off.

At first, I thought the tyres had burst. But then people were screaming around me. When I turned, everyone was covered in blood. I turned to look at my neighbour and I noticed that she had lost her left arm. While I was trying to comprehend what had befallen us, I heard gun shots and saw rebels running towards the minibus.

The first thing that came to my mind was to run for my dear life. I lifted my legs to run, but then I realised that my right leg was missing. It was cut right above the knee level.

At this point, images of my five children flooded my head. “God, I never wanted to leave them so soon,” I prayed.
With the continuous firing into our minibus and everyone that was on the minibus running in different directions. I gathered all my strength, pulled myself together, fell out of the seat and crawled for 100 metres into the bush. My leg was numb, never felt even a tinge of pain. I think that is why I did not immediately notice that I had lost my limb.
I was still crawling, when I saw a rebel approaching me, I stopped, closed my eyes, held my breath and lay motionless on the ground. The rebel shook me four times and tossed me, but I did not show any sign of life.

As if to confirm whether I was actually dead, the rebel hit my shattered leg with his gun barrel. But still, I did not move because I did not feel any pain, my leg was still numb. He then tried to undress me but because I was wearing tight jeans, he failed and lucky enough for me, he gave up and went away with my watch, bag and all its contents.

After he had left, I lay on the ground and hoped for the best. Thoughts screened through my mind, must have been at a speed of 1,000 in a second but I can’t recall any except images of my children. I kept thinking of how they would live without me since I was a single mother.


An hour after the incident, a UPDF truck arrived, they loaded the injured (Five people) and drove them to a nearby health centre and went back to hunt for the rebels. This is also when we got to know that we had been hit by a landmine.

At the health centre where they took us, they had no medicine. They gave us anti-tetanus injections and used pieces of clothe to tie our wounds to control the bleeding. We stayed at the health centre for eight hours because there was no ambulance or car to take us to the hospital.

At 6pm, a truck transporting maize, beans and soda to Gulu passed by the health centre. By then, the UPDF soldiers were back, so they stopped it and loaded us on top of the bags and crates of soda.

I remember holding onto a crate of soda so that I do not fall off. But a few kilometers into the journey, the driver stopped the truck and claimed that it had gotten a mechanical problem. I think he was lying. He thought that if the rebels saw the soldiers on his truck they would attack him one day as he often plied the route.

So we had to wait for another truck by the road side. By this time, I could feel the pain. I beat my tongue, lips to stop myself from screaming. After about thirty minutes, we saw a truck carrying cattle to Gulu.

The soldiers stopped it and loaded us onto it. We got to St. Mary’s Lacor Hospital in Gulu Town at 8pm By this time, I could not hold it anymore, the pain was unbearable. I was screaming at the top of my voice.

I was rushed to the theatre. And only gained conscience two days after the operation, it was Christmas Eve. A certain gentleman called Brother Eric came and spoke to me because he noticed that I had no attendant. I gave him the contacts of AVSI, an Italian organisation I had been working for and asked them to inform my family about my condition.

But I warned him to tell whoever they contact not to let my two younger children who were in their senior four and primary seven vacations know about my condition.

That was the most miserable Christmas they have ever had. While the three older ones knew what had happened to me and were trying to deal with it, the younger ones did not and it was their first Christmas without me.

I discouraged my children from traveling from Kampala to Gulu to come visit me at the hospital as the road was insecure. But despite my persistence, my elder son visited me as often as he could.

When I saw him in the hospital, at first, I was very mad at him but then I felt sorry for him. I wanted to cry but I also had to be strong for him since he was the one taking care of his siblings.

I spent two months at the hospital. My children were thrown out of the rented house in Kampala because of failure to pay rent.

Three of my relatives offered to host them but such happenings made me very bitter about that accident.
However, constant encouragement from a Christian who visited sick people at the hospital, my father, the desire to go home to my children and reading the Bible helped me regain my strength. I remember one day after reading Isaiah 43, I started thinking positively about my condition.

During my final days at the hospital, people from The National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) approached me and said they wanted me to represent Uganda Landmine Survivors in a conference in Harare, Zimbabwe.

I was discharged from the hospital before getting prosthesis because my stump size was still big. I was instead given crutches.

I was discharged on a Tuesday and I was on a plane to Harare on Saturday. That trip was the beginning of my blessings.

I have travelled all over the world pushing for the ban of landmines in various countries, preached the need for countries and parties to comply with the Mine Ban Treaty agreement and protection of landmine survivors.
When I first started narrating my fate, I would cry and feel sorry for myself, I was depressed, stressed and lived in denial for more than three years.

Back on my feet
But with the financial and emotional support from my relatives and children, I managed to get back on my feet.
My children, who are now between the ages of 36 and 22 years, have continually supported me. I now have a few enterprises through which I get income.

I have addressed presidents and prime ministers of various countries plus dignitaries on banning land mines.
In Uganda, I have formed landmine survivors’ associations in Gulu, Lira, Amuru, Oyam, Apach, Pader, Agago, Kitgum, Kasese and Yumbe districts.

These brought together under their umbrella organisation, Uganda Landmine Survivors Association which I formed in 2005.