Eunice Adong was abducted by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in March 2004. She was captured along with 25 other girls during an attack on Aweikwo village, in the present Aleka Sub-county, Oyam District.
After four years in captivity, Adong was able to escape during a battle between the rebels and the government forces.
But she landed on yet another silent but upsetting war of discrimination against returnees from the bush.
Today, Adong is undergoing vocational and entrepreneurship skills development training at Aweikwo Trading Centre, a few metres away from her home.
Such are the opportunities that women and young girls who were abducted and are seeking to forget the two-decade war can only dream of.
“People look at me as a former rebel, someone from the bush, but I don’t care. ‘Yes, it happened. I was not prepared for it but I have no way to reverse it now,” says Adong, a mother of one.
Adong escaped captivity with a son she sired out of sexual slavery by the rebels. But despite all this trouble, Adong is trying to turn her life around by training as a tailor.
She is among seven lucky female abductees who are benefiting from vocational skills courtesy of Fight to Improve Community Health (FICH), a non-governmental organisation that is supporting more than 50 girls affected by war in schools and the community in their project, a Conflict Affected Girls.
Other women and girls who were abducted by the LRA – many of whom were forced into sexual slavery and committing horrific acts against their own people – have not been so fortunate.
And most of them still face stigma from their communities and have failed to enjoy many aspects of human existence such as marry, go to school or find a job.
“My son is now in Primary One but his fellow pupils always call him son of a rebel. “This has made life very hard for him at the school,” says Adong.
“It seems the communities have not forgiven us [former abductees].” “Discrimination is still very common and it affects us so much. At the health centre, we are always served last and at the borehole they make us fetch water when every other person has fetched,” she adds.
Those returning from captivity were granted amnesty – under Uganda’s Amnesty Act – for any crimes they committed while under the rebels’ control.
Figures from the Amnesty Commission show that approximately 26,000 people have so far been pardoned on returning from the bush. More than 5,000 of these are female – and two-thirds are under the age of 27.
The Amnesty Commission is an arm of government which provides support – along with its partner organisations – to those being reintegrated into their former communities.
Local leaders say women and girls captured by the rebels still struggle to resettle in their villages, while their children, often fathered by rebels, face complete rejection.
Many women lost their husbands in the war, leaving them to raise children on their own. Others returned from captivity with children fathered by rebels and have struggled to find a husband or be accepted into their families.
“Most of the former female abductees came back with children whose father’s clan is unknown,” says Benson Beja, Aweikwo village chairman. “So there is this hesitance to fully accept them and many have not benefited from government programmes.”
Those who have managed to marry upon return often find that their husband later reject the children that do not belong to him.