Grace

Life was supposed to get easier for Grace Achara after being abducted, raped, and forced to kill - but war is only half the story. Since the LRA was chased out of northern Uganda in 2006, the flood of returnees has reduced to a trickle. As a result, governmental and humanitarian funding has dried up, and so too have the much-needed services that returnees so desperately need. Grace is one of these doubly-disadvantaged, “late” returnees, having returned home in September 2014 after having spent over half her life with the LRA.

↓ Scroll down to read her story ↓

Portrait of Grace Achara
Meet Grace Achara
I was just 16 when I killed for the first time.
The man had tried to escape from our battalion.
So a few of the new recruits were ordered to beat him to death.
We had no choice...
else they'd have killed us too.
It only took one minute...
Grace Achara: Forced to kill
This was the punishment for anyone breaking the rules in the LRA...
Which was why I was so scared when I decided to try and escape.
But perhaps I should start at the beginning...
The LRA soldiers came for me at night...I was just 14.
They asked us where our parents were - But they’d already fled without me.
I was all alone...
The LRA soldiers tied a heavy burlap sack of grain to my back...
We walked for days like that until we reached other LRA battalions in Sudan.
The first few days were the hardest...
I missed my home, my family, my school friends.
But then I met Simon - a young commander who wanted me to be his wife.
And for the first time in years, I was truly happy.
I think it was God that brought us together.
But then things fell apart last year in Central African Republic.
Simon was accused of helping someone plan to escape...
And he was told he’d have to stand trial...
But I knew what that meant...
So one night I told Simon about the plans i'd made to escape...and he agreed to come.
Life was supposed to be better and easier after we’d escaped from the LRA...
but now there are now moments when I wonder if the risk of escaping was worth it.
I was separated from Simon when we were brought back to Uganda.
And I was taken with my children to a reception centre run by the Gulu Support the Children Organisation (GUSCO).
Based in Gulu, the centre was set up in 1994 to offer first response assistance to returnees...
GUSCO offered counselling and vocational training to aid their reintegration into their post-war communities.
Meet Lucy Lapoti
But since the LRA was chased out of northern Uganda in 2006, the flood of returnees has declined...
And the funding has dried up.
In the past, women had received support at GUSCO for months...
...But I was there for only one week before I was asked to leave.
I felt terrible because I knew those who had returned in the past had been given more help by GUSCO.
I think they are maybe tired of helping so many other returnees.
At first we lived peacefully with Simon’s family near Kitgum...
...But then the news of where we’d come from spread throughout the village.
"Icako en kiti ni", they began to mutter to me in the market.
"Icako en kiti ni", they began to whisper as we stood at the well.
In our language luo, it means "you still behave like a rebel".
Then my neighbour was very angry when my son got into a fight with her child...
your kids are from the bush – they will try to kill my children.
Slowly words turned into actions, and our neighbours started to kill our livestock...
...so we knew it was time to move to Nwoya district, where noone knew our past.
Starting over yet again was difficult - I was abducted so young and I never finished my education.
Simon and I dig in the garden each morning – but that’s only enough to live on, leaving nothing to sell.
And sometimes I struggle because my chest hurts from all the beatings I received from LRA soldiers.
Thankfully I learned a useful skill in the jungle...
I think it's god’s plan that the wife of a commander showed me how to brew alcohol...
I think it's god’s plan that the wife of a commander showed me how to brew alcohol...
When I can afford the ingredients, it’s easy to make.
I just need nuts to grind, water, yeast, sugar and tea leaves - it then ferments overnight.
I take it to the local trading centre the next morning...
At about 25 cents a cup, I'm lucky if I can make a $10 profit from a single batch.
Without this skill from the bush, I don’t know how we would feed our children.
But now it’s the rainy season and business is slower...
GUSCO said they would be in touch about organising some business training for me...
But that was six months ago...I don’t know how my family will survive.
Gallery: Grace Achara
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