Stolen

on Thursday, 03 August 2017. Posted in Uganda

Naomi was abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army when she was eight years old. Now she is a Lioness.

Stolen

My name is Naomi.

I am 25 years old.

In 2003, when Joseph Kony’s militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), first came to invade Amuria district in Northern Uganda, I was kidnapped within two days of their arrival. I was eight years old. Nine other girls including my sister-in-law were captured too.

All the other girls were left to go free but I was taken hostage even though I was the youngest. I was handed over to a young armed fighter who took care of me making sure that I couldn’t escape.

We had just started walking when the military helicopter came. I didn’t know how to hide and so the boy I had been handed over to started to train me how to dodge the bombs being dropped by the helicopter. When the helicopter turned its back on us we would run to hide. We had to keep on running to hide every time the helicopter came to pelt us with bombs.

Shortly after the helicopter left, while we were still in hiding, the foot soldiers attacked us and there was an exchange of fire between the army and the LRA rebels. The boy whose custody I was under got hold of my hand and I ran along with him. He was armed, but he didn’t stay to fight but ran away holding my hand. Other girls who had been captured were also given to fighters to take care of them and to make sure that they could not escape. There were deaths and causalities on both sides.

After the fighting had stopped and the soldiers had gone, we proceeded up to a village called Awelu. It was around 1:00 PM. We had a rest after a long day of fighting and walking.

Shortly, as we were still resting, the helicopter came back again and started bombing us up to 6:00 PM without resting. That day we didn’t even have time to cook or eat anything and we spent the whole night with empty stomachs till the next morning.

That was my first day.

The following morning we started to light the fire in order to start cooking. Soon we heard the noise of the helicopter. The foot soldiers came in too. After the battle had calmed down we left Awelu and proceeded to Ilong primary school where we pitched our camp. We cooked and ate chicken and broth. I ate the food in tears. The high ranking commanders heard that I was crying. They asked me why I was crying and I told them that I was missing school. They then convinced me that they would take me back to school once we are all settled down in South Sudan.

We moved around within Gulu for about six months and from Gulu we moved to Kitgum where we spent about two months before returning to Gulu.

In Gulu the fighters began on a killing spree. They killed women and children who failed to walk with them due to fatigue. One boy from my village failed to walk and he was killed right before our very eyes. Other people the rebels came across who were men, women, old and young were also killed.

One day a serious fight erupted between the LRA rebels and the army. The helicopter was bombing us and the ground troops were pounding us as well. The communication came from Joseph Kony to hurry the hostages to cross over to South Sudan.

On our way we had pitched up our camp overlooking a swamp. One of the girls told me to go with them to fetch water from the swamp. I hesitated and therefore did not go with them. As soon as they had left I heard the noise of the helicopter and then we heard bombs in the swamp. All those girls and boys were bombed. Not one of them had been left alive.

This time we had to make a quick move to South Sudan. We camped in the bush where there was no sign of human beings. At night there was a whistle. An order to break up the camp was given by the commander by blowing the whistle and we left that very night at 1:00 AM.

After travelling a few days we camped in a swamp called Adogaagego. We saw a small plane that was spying, and then an army helicopter came. At first it didn’t bomb. We were all very anxious. Everyone was expecting an attack. Alas! There was an immediate attack from ground troops. As the battle was raging on, other fighters whose duty was to guard the hostages held our hands and ran with the hostages to prevent them from escaping and so we still could not find ways to escape amidst this confusion and fire exchange. This battle raged on the whole day and once again we didn’t eat anything the whole day and night. We all scattered but when the battle calmed down we came back to the swamp for water.

We spent a night in the swamp and a gun for shooting the plane was set up. The following morning the helicopter came back again and the LRA fighters were fully prepared. The helicopter was shot and went rolling up and down, and we could see the smoke as it caught fire and went and crashed 900 meters away from us.

We moved onto a forest and lit up a fire to start cooking when a helicopter came again. We all scattered. I went and hid behind a small rock. Next to me was a young boy of 12 years hiding near me. The helicopter started bombing our positions and I could hear the cries from other captured children crying from their injuries.

As we were hiding the helicopter dropped a bomb on the rock that I was hiding behind. A bomb particle hit the twelve year boy who was hiding next to me and entered deep in his throat. I heard him trying to cry. I tried to call his name but he couldn’t answer me. He lay down helpless. After the helicopter had left, I called the LRA fighters and told them that something was wrong with my friend. They came and carried him and we started to move while he was still breathing. We only covered 200 meters and he died. It was so sombre a moment for me! So sad! His body was laid there under a tree and covered with a white bed sheet, then we moved on.

Whenever any hostage child tried to escape and was caught, we were all called together to witness how that child is being executed. One day two sisters both taken hostage tried to escape. The rebels mounted a heavy search for them and they were caught, brought to the camp and given two hundred strokes each. After the heavy caning the commander called all of us the hostages and told us to watch as they executed these two sisters. At this time whether you want it or not you must watch! This incidence sent shivers to all the captured children who had the thought of escaping even if there came a chance to escape.

The following day we started to go towards South Sudan and we had to cross the swamps - very long and deep swamps. I was lucky that one man carried me on his back. It’s here that I witnessed children being carried away by water before my very eyes. There was not much fighting in South Sudan, and we could get leisure time to go to the capital Juba for shopping.

One day Joseph Kony said that, according to the intelligence report gathered by his team, and according to his gods’ message, the Ugandan soldiers from Kizito barracks were planning to attack us in two weeks’ time.

Indeed after two weeks the soldiers came to attack us. The battle started and two helicopters also came in to give reinforcement to their ground soldiers. We scattered to different directions. I ran with one girl who had also been abducted from Lokung village. She was abducted when she was a child.

We started moving on foot. We would move in the bushes, not following the road, and living on uprooted cassava. Our plan was to go and surrender to Kizito barracks that is at the border between Uganda and South Sudan.

Sometimes we would come across a place where soldiers had camped and had cooked and eaten and had left some left over food. We would eat the left over food for survival. We only wanted to make sure we had enough water. We spent three months. We had a small tent and a dust coat and a rain coat. At night we would pitch our tent and sleep in the forest. God helped us. We didn’t meet any soldier or any human being on the way. Only one day we got scared by a fox who yelled at us and ran away. We also got scared and ran in different directions.

Right from the bush days we always had our way of locating each other in case we hid in different places. I climbed on the tree and whistled. She whistled back. Then we located each other and continued our journey.

On the fourth month I and my friend finally came closer to the border barracks that we wanted to go to surrender. We spent three days hiding near the road and the barracks was 200 meters away. We could even watch the Sudanese passing by. We hid here near the road side without any person seeing us. We would see foot soldiers passing by and the tankers. Then at night we would pitch our tent and sleep.

On the fourth day at 4:00 pm it was drizzling. I told my friend that it was our time to go to the barracks to surrender. I saw eight soldiers coming from in front of us with their guns pointed at us. My friend wanted to run away but I told her to be brave. We continued going towards them. They started asking us who we were. We told them everything. I told them that I was from Amuria and that I was abducted when I was 8 years old.

We were taken to the barracks and were served with porridge while waiting for the commander to come and see us. We found about thirty other children there who had been rescued. We were taken to a psychiatric centre where we were given counselling and were taught how to live with our parents and siblings in harmony. 

When my uncle heard that the children abducted by Joseph Kony had been rescued, he called my daddy and he came and indeed cried tears of joy upon seeing me. To him, it was a dream. My father asked the one in charge of the psychiatric centre to let him take me to school in Kampala. In Kampala I was put in Mukono primary school. Here I studied up to primary five.

This story I have told is just a quarter of my story and experience, since I cannot put it all down in pen and paper.

May God bless every reader.


Naomi has joined the Angatunyo program and has become skilled at sewing. She hopes to return to school and go on to do more study.

Angatunyo is a micro-enterprise program established through the support of Fulcrum Aid. The name means “lioness” and refers to the way the program empowers girls who have lost their parents to civil war or HIV/AIDS and enables them to be financially independent. For many of the girls this is the only way to avoid being forced into child-marriage. 

Click here for more information on the Angatunyo project including how you can give support.

Naomi's portrait is painted by Ron Penrose. For more of Ron's work, or to commission a portrait, click here for his website.

 

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.

More Nurses and Midwives

training qualified nurses and midwives in south sudan

View more

Opportunities for Rural Development

education, health care and nutrition for remote papua new guinea

View more

Supporting HIV Affected Children

providing holistic care for vulnerable children in bangladesh

View more

Alternatives to Forced Marriage

empowering teenage girls in uganda

View more

Providing a Safe Refuge

emergency care for homeless girls in south sudan

View more

Supporting Safe Births

Training Village Midwives in Bangladesh

View more

Login