Jacinta

Each and every day the war finally ends for someone like Jacinta Acan. Nearly 350 former child soldiers returned home in the first six months of 2015 – a figure that is already set to eclipse the 599 that returned last year. But, despite this consistent flow of returnees, Jacinta says there’s been very little support from the government and aid sector since she came home last September. Abducted as a 14-year-old schoolgirl with a limited education, Jacinta says she and her two children wouldn’t have survived without the help of her sister Sandy.

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Portrait of Jacinta Acan
Meet Jacinta Acan
At school my friends and I had a plan for our lives - we’d train to become nurses together...
But then God took me to stay in the bush.
Today I see that my friends have realised our shared dream...
But I am struggling having spent half my life in the jungle...
Looking back now, I don’t know what we were thinking.
Meet Jacinta Acan
Children flocked to Lokung church every evening during the war. We always used to sleep there because it was the safest place being so close to the army barracks.
By 5pm we would be laying down our bedding...
...And by 7pm there would be no floor space left.
But one day at school we’d heard the LRA had abducted children from a nearby church the night before...
...So we hatched a plan to spend the night outside the camp - it seemed like such an adventure.
my grandmother insisted on coming with us – she said she would look after us.
We found a quiet spot to finish our homework before we went to sleep.
It started to drizzle around 10pm...
We never heard the soldiers approaching.
The noise of the rain had masked the sound of their footsteps.
My school friends managed to get away but I was paralysed with fear.
My grandmother begged them to let me go...
You’ve already taken my other grandchildren – please leave me this one.
But they took me anyway and we then walked for days.
Meet Jacinta Acan
Once we met up with the other battalions, all the abductees were told to bathe before our formal induction into the LRA.
They lined us up on the ground and caned each of us 50 times
If they saw you crying, they’d keep beating you until you stopped.
Meet Jacinta Acan
In the end I spent 14 years in the bush with the LRA.
It was God that brought me and my 2 children back in 2014.
We were brought to the Gulu Support the Children Organisation (GUSCO) reception centre.
But after just 2 weeks they told us to go home.
I was given a mattress, basin, blanket - and an amnesty certificate pardoning me for my time with the LRA.
I asked them: "What good are these things? My children can’t eat an amnesty certificate."
I needed seeds to plant, and money to set up some kind of business to support my family.
Meet Jacinta Acan
I’ve heard that those who returned a few years ago were given a lot more help, including tailoring classes and money to set up a business.
But what about us? Didn't we undergo the same trauma with the LRA?
Instead GUSCO offered us old clothes from previous returnees.
But they were old and moth-eaten and weren’t fit for wearing - but we took them. What choice did we have?
Meet Jacinta Acan
I wondered: what was wrong with these people? Was it because we had come from the bush? Did they think we were mad?
What kind of a start to a new life is this for me and my kids?
In the end my sister Sandy has saved me – not GUSCO.
When I first came back home, I was struggling to survive.
But Sandy begged a lady at the market to give me a job.
I now sell dried fish there for a small commission - on a good day I can make about a $2 profit.
It’s not much, but it helps me to buy basic things like food and soap.
Sandy tells me this will not only teach me how to run a business...
...but will help people get used to me again now that I’m back from the bush.
But despite the money from my new job, Sandy has to help me pay for medicine when my kids are sick.
When I need money for a boda-boda to get to the hospital – it is Sandy.
When I cannot afford food or my rent – it is Sandy.
Everything has been down to Sandy.
Meet Jacinta Acan
Gallery: Jacinta Acan
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