Children gather for vocational training and Bible lessons at their Compassion center in Lira, Uganda.
Although the Lord’s Resistance Army retreated from Uganda in 2006, families in the North still feel the effects of the rebel group’s brutality.
One of Africa’s oldest, most violent armed groups, the LRA carried out widespread murder, rape and mutilation of Ugandan civilians for 20 years. Under the command of Joseph Kony, they abducted more than 25,000 children, forcing them to be soldiers or sex slaves. At the height of the conflict, 1.8 million displaced people lived in camps, where HIV and other diseases spread quickly. When the LRA was driven out of Uganda by security forces, they left behind orphans, AIDS, psychological scars and increased poverty.
Many children who attend Victory Outreach Child Development Centre in Lira come from families affected by the LRA war, says Project Director Angela Apili. The majority of the registered children’s parents or caregivers have HIV, she says. “Most people don’t have proper shelters, and they cannot take good care of their children. The war is still affecting them.” But Angela’s biggest fear is that a large number of sponsored children will be orphaned if their caregivers start dying of AIDS. Thankfully, Compassion’s program is designed to help vulnerable children navigate the most difficult circumstances.
This Compassion center has become a place for children to step away from the lingering shadow of violence and focus on building skills to enjoy better lives than their parents had.
On a recent Saturday at Victory Outreach Child Development Centre, sponsored children file into old shipping containers converted into classrooms. In one room students learn to sew. Whether they use their new skills to make their clothes last longer or to become professional tailors as adults, the children will benefit from the class.
Cooking With Confidence
In another classroom, an instructor teaches children how to bake. She walks her students through each step of making a cake before putting their creation into an oven outside. Many of the kids don’t have electricity at home, let alone ovens. Aside from being able to better feed their families as adults, the students can one day use this knowledge for food-service or cooking jobs. Their instructor says that baking is an especially valuable skill because cakes are in high demand for weddings and other celebrations.
While the kids are in morning classes, cooks at the Compassion center mix up a huge batch of porridge. When snack time is over, they will make a full lunch for all 265 children at the center. The nutrients are crucial for kids in Uganda, a country that ranks 13th highest for rates of stunting caused by malnutrition, according to UNICEF.
After washing their hands with soap and water at an outdoor faucet, students line up for porridge. The calorie-rich snack helps fight malnutrition among kids who often don’t get enough to eat at home. After the snack, they return to classes.
Students gather close to share the four computers at their child development center. “We want them to become self-supportive in the future,” says Angela, the project director. Technology use has risen exponentially in Africa since 2000, making computer skills crucial for well-paying jobs.
Hear the musical abilities these sponsored kids develop at their Compassion center.
Children whose families often can’t afford enough food, let alone music equipment, learn to play instruments at the Compassion center in Lira. “That is also very marketable,” says their project director, because people hire bands to play at events. Playing music also brings joy to the kids, who deserve a break from the struggle to survive in poverty.
After a day of classes, Bible study, food and games, students walk home from the Compassion center. Sponsored 14-year-old Sarah, left, and her sister, Kevin, have chores to do, including walking to a watering hole to fill up jerry cans. Many residents in the surrounding area use this muddy water source. Still, Sarah and Kevin use the water for bathing, cooking and even drinking. Their elderly grandma raises them because LRA rebels killed their parents. She says she knows they should boil the water first, but they often can’t afford wood or charcoal to start a fire under their kettle.
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More from this Issue
In this issue, meet children who are daring to dream after suffering through war, abuse or other trauma.