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Archive for the ‘peace’ Category

What makes a Ugandan warrior lay down his gun?

Posted by Joanne Offer on 25 August, 2008

Karamoja peace committee IRC photo
Women from an IRC peace committee sing a song about how raiding hurts communities and how peace can unite them instead.   Photo: Joanne Offer/The IRC
Joanne Offer is in Uganda, where the International Rescue Committee is working with Ugandan communities affected by conflict as well as refugees from neighboring Sudan.

This piece was originally posted on Reuters AlertNet on 18 August. You can read all of Joanne’s posts from Uganda here.

What makes a warrior lay down his gun? I got the intriguing chance to find out when I met the Nadunget peace committee – a group of 40 or so men and women, many of whom were once involved in or affected by armed raids, but who now promote peace across Moroto district in the Karamoja region of northern Uganda.

The committee members go to nearby villages to sing peace songs, play out dramas and use their own experiences to explain why fighting benefits no one. Women who’ve been widowed by raiding talk of the emotional and financial hardship of losing their loved ones. Children who’ve been orphaned tell others that life is precious. It’s heartbreaking stuff to hear.

It’s quite a culture shift for many of the committee, which is one of nine formed with the help of aid agency International Rescue Committee (IRC) to maintain peace in a region formerly troubled with violent raids to steal cattle.

As one man told me: “I was only young when I started going on raids. I was in Primary 2 when my father told me to stop going to school. He said there was another school in the bush where I could get a real education. So I started raiding.

“Between 50 to 100 of us used to go on a raid together. We were indestructible. Me, I used a big gun and it felt great. I was ready to shoot and I had a lot of bullets.”

So what made the difference? How does a former warrior end up on an IRC peace committee? It’s clear that it wasn’t an overnight change for these men, but they slowly realised that raiding was destroying their communities.

“Guns have finished many of our people,” says one man, “we’ve all lost someone in the raids.”

Another committee member tells me: “In the past, people raided because of poverty, and it’s still a huge problem in our area. But I tell them that we should look at our neighbours. They’ve done better than us because businesses have gone there. Businesses won’t come here because they are scared of raids.”

Big-scale raids are now more unusual in Karamoja, although there’s still a threat from smaller groups of thieves. These thieves are often young men, struggling to survive in a region hit by drought and with few opportunities to make a living. But maybe the committees can help to persuade them that the gun is not the answer.


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“Waiting for the long grass to grow” / Uganda

Posted by Joanne Offer on 20 August, 2008

Joanne Offer/The IRC
Ajok stands in front of Labuje mother camp, where thousands of people fled to escape the Lord’s Resistance Army. Photo: Joanne Offer/The IRC
Joanne Offer is in Uganda, where the International Rescue Committee is working with Ugandan communities affected by conflict as well as refugees from neighboring Sudan. Read all her posts from Uganda here.

It’s all the K’s in Uganda – after Karamoja and Kiryandongo, we move next to Kitgum district. The IRC has been working in camps here since 1998 to help thousands of Ugandan people displaced by atrocities carried out by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, (LRA).

Since a peace agreement was struck in 2006, people have gradually been moving back home to their original villages, although many still live in small transit camps while they rebuild their dilapidated houses. To ensure these people have the basic services they need, the IRC is also moving with them. For example we’re fixing village boreholes to improve water sources, we’re building essential sanitation in schools, and we’re setting up support centers to reduce incidences of gender-based violence as people return.

An IRC health officer examines a young girl at a special outreach clinic for people now living in transit camps.

An IRC health officer examines a young girl at a special outreach clinic for people now living in transit camps.

We’re also supporting the government’s local health centers to fight a serious outbreak of hepatitis E, a disease that’s killed more than 100 people in Kitgum this year. Our health teams go daily into the field and we’ve set up a special team on the Sudan border – the point of origin for the outbreak –  to diagnose the diseases and offer advice.

As more and more people return home, the IRC is beginning to phase out some of its services. For example, we used to run an adult literacy program in Labuje mother camp. This helped young women like Ajok Irene Innocent, 19, who fled to Labuje about 4 years ago when the LRA attacked her parish of Pagen.

Ajok says, “I dropped out of school when I was 17 to have a baby. I couldn’t stay in school, but IRC’s literacy classes helped me to keep up with my exams and I now go to secondary school like everyone else. It’s definitely helped me while I’ve been in the camps.”

Like many others, Ajok’s family are now getting ready to return to their home village. “We’re just waiting for the long grass to grow so we can use it for the roof of our new house,” she explains. “I want to go home. Here we are too crowded and we have no land.  It will be better at home.”

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Liberia: “War is Over”

Posted by Emily Holland on 16 May, 2008

Monrovia Liberia 2003 by Peter Biro the IRC
Liberia, 2003 Photo: Peter Biro/The IRC
IRC communications officer Emily Holland is blogging her second trip to Liberia. This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.

“This is where the war began,” was my introduction to Nimba County. It’s here, an International Rescue Committee staff member reminded me, that ex-Liberian dictator Charles Taylor staged his Christmas Eve incursion in 1989.

Last night, I slept in a house that Charles Taylor once inhabited. Can you believe it? It’s startling until you learn that 70% of the population of Nimba County took part in Liberia’s civil war.Many who took part were children—child soldiers conscripted from their families, given weapons and drugs, and turned into fighters.

Thankfully, the war is past and most child soldiers have been demobilized. That long process began with the United Nations. In exchange for turning in their weapons, former child soldiers were given money: a sum for their guns and another when they returned to their counties.

The system was imperfect: some former combatants were registered in different counties than those where they actually lived. And often, sadly, the former child soldiers’ commanders would continue to manipulate them. Commanders would pretend to be the children’s parents, then take their money and run.

The IRC was one of several organizations that assisted the U.N. in the demobilization process. We created safe spaces for child soldiers—young men and women—once they had been demobilized. We counseled them, worked to get them caught up on the education they had missed, and also established skills training programs for them: teaching them carpentry, auto mechanics, and other trades. Our rationale was that by giving these former fighters a way to make a living honestly, we would help them realize the benefits of peace for Liberia…and prevent a return to violence.

The IRC continues to reach out to, train, and mentor ex-combatants. Today, however, people are encouraged not to differentiate between former child soldiers and other Liberians made vulnerable by the war. Considering the mystique that’s developed around child soldiers, it’s sometimes difficult.

In closing, I saw a sign on the road today. “War is Over,” it read in colorful, block script. It depicted men and women—happy at last—and a child soldier relinquishing his gun. What an arresting and inspiring sight that was. What a long way Liberia has come.

Posted in Africa, children, peace, war | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Uganda – Be a Piece of the Peace

Posted by The IRC on 15 January, 2008

Boy doing homework in a tree, Uganda
Photo: Shannon Meehan/The IRC
Uganda Lobby DaysThe 2008 Lobby Days for Northern Uganda are going to be the best opportunity ever for people concerned about the ongoing crisis in northern Uganda to help achieve a long overdue end to this horrific war.We’re closer to peace than ever before and by joining us for this historic event, you can be a part of what helps us get there.

When: February 24-26, 2008

Where: Washington, D.C.

More Info: ugandalobbyday.com

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Posted by The IRC on 24 December, 2007

Mae Hong Son Thailand
Photo: The IRC
Thank you for reading our blog and for being part of IRC’s global family.We wish you peace and all the best in the New Year.

– All of the IRC’s “voices from the field”

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