LIRA, Uganda (GPI)-- Eunice Apio realized she had heard enough after 18 months of listening to the traumatic stories of women who had been abducted as children during the Lord’s Resistance Army’s insurgency in northern Uganda.
“After one and half years, I had seen so much that I was more traumatized than the people I was supposed to rehabilitate,” says Apio, who was working for an organization called Concerned Parents Association.
Mothers set up Concerned Parents Association after the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels abducted 139 girls in 1996 from St. Mary’s College, a secondary school for girls in Aboke, a town in northern Uganda’s Lira district. The deputy headmistress and a young male teacher followed the rebels and eventually rescued 109 girls. Mothers of the victims set up Concerned Parents Association to advocate for the release of the 30 girls left in captivity.
The school is Apio’s alma mater, so she joined the organization as a coordinator after graduating from university in 2001. Her duties included program initiation, advocacy, fundraising, reintegration and rehabilitation of returnees and reunification of families.
In 2002, the Ugandan army rescued many abductees. Apio says that many returned with harrowing stories of rebels throwing people into burning huts or bashing them to death.
Apio says that the stories weighed on her. Each day, she cried at home. Her family advised her to leave the job, so she decided to pursue her master’s degree in human rights at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. While working at Concerned Parents Association, she had noted that the law, policies and programs ignored children born in captivity, and she wanted to change that.
Even though Apio was in Kampala, the distance could not erase the horrors that she had seen and listened to, she says. She was concerned about the fate of the returning children who had become mothers in captivity, many times as a result of rape by rebels, who kept them as their sex slaves.
Because of the stigma attached to rape and having sexual relations with rebels who terrorized their communities, both mother and child faced rejection from their family and the society at large. This stigmatization can be traced to the Langi custom in which relatives do not accept children born out of wedlock in the maternal home.
Once Apio attained her master’s degree, she started a nongovernmental organization called Facilitation for Peace and Development with her husband, Fred Ebil, and best friend, Joy Acen, to help rehabilitate these women by promoting property rights in Lira.
Moved by the atrocities suffered by women during the Lord’s Resistance Army’s insurgency in northern Uganda, Apio set up Facilitation for Peace and Development to empower women to claim their property rights. In addition, the organization offers livelihood training in the communities. Organization members say they lead mediation efforts, and beneficiaries say their new land rights and income-generation groups are changing their lives.
Tens of thousands of people died and 2 million people were displaced in northern Uganda during the two-decade armed conflict between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization. The Lord’s Resistance Army also abducted tens of thousands of children, with various organizations’ estimates ranging from 30,000 to 60,000.
Apio says the community embraced Facilitation for Peace and Development.
“People were pleased that for once, there was an organization that was not talking about the Lord’s Resistance Army,” Apio says. “The new organization also rekindled people’s hope because it was composed of young people from the region and it was talking about people’s rights.”