Among the vivid images from a trip that my wife Debbie and I took to northern Uganda a few years ago are the ashes and the dancing.
Ashes are sadness. Something that was once whole and alive and meaningful has burned and been reduced to nothing, a shadow of what once was. The saddest ashes I’ve ever seen were in a field in Lukodi, a village a few miles north of Gulu toward Sudan in a region of Uganda that is trying to find its bearings after two decades of the most horrific abuse at the hands of rebellious thugs led by Joseph Kony and called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
In Lukodi, 45 people were burned to death in their thatch roofed mud huts, torched on a nighttime, revengeful raid by the LRA. What’s left are rings of ash that were once homes, the remnant of real lives and a symbol of the horror that has marked the lives of families devastated by the carnage of a long siege of insanity known primarily around the world for the abduction of children to serve as soldiers in the rebel band.
Fortunately, there is dancing. When we were in Uganda, we visited the work of ChildVoice International and its partners, helping the child soldiers who have been repatriated and are trying to find the rest of their lives after their childhood has been literally stolen. Visit a group in an African village and if there is any hope at all you will be treated to a dance. And we saw wonderful, energetic, beautiful dances by children and adults of every age. Among the moving dances we saw was one by a group of young women, girls really, who had been abducted as children by the rebels and forced to be their “wives” as they came of age.
Freed or escaped, these young women and their children are being helped by ChildVoice at a remarkable new place called Lukome, a sustainable, replicable long-term village of refuge and care for Uganda’s child victims of war.
ChildVoice International is a Christian organization seeking to restore the voices of children silenced by war. ChildVoice International’s programs recognize that someone must speak for the thousands of children rendered voiceless by unspeakable brutality and unimaginable inhumanity. ChildVoice acts on the conviction that children broken by war can be restored in safe communities with loving care, spiritual and emotional counseling, and effective education and vocational training.
The village—near the massacre site—includes a boarding school, non-traditional educational programs, a vocational center, and spiritual and emotional counseling for former child soldiers and other young people who need long-term care and cannot return to their families.
During their time at the ChildVoice Lukome Centre, the child mothers participate in basic education vocational training, income generating projects, counseling, parenting classes, and life skills training. The young people living at the village can stay as long as they need to—until they obtain an education and the necessary life skills that empower them to be self-reliant and able to live on their own in the community.
Long live the dance.