Healing and Restoration in Northern Uganda
In 2005, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) received a desperate request by a young Ugandan from the Acholi Tribe for help as his community had suffered frequent attacks by the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA). Northern Uganda suffered 20 years of terrorism and persecution from 1987 to mid-2008, in which countless civilians were massacred, 2 million people were displaced, homes were destroyed and at least 25,000 young people were abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Acholi tribe experienced nearly 95% of their population being displaced as a result of the terrorist acts.
As a response, in 2005 three HART personnel visited Patongo, one of the areas suffering severely from LRA atrocities, to meet local people, obtain evidence of their suffering, and (as is HART’s foundational principle) to ask them to identify their priorities for aid. Their response: ‘with so many of our people killed or now dying in the camps, there is no one to look after other people’s orphans-and many are dying of starvation and disease.’
HART was privileged to respond by offering assistance with the establishment of a Centre for the care of orphans: Patongo Orphans Infants Health Rehabilitation (PAORINHER). PAORINHER was established in 2007 with the primary aim of caring for orphans who were dying from starvation and disease. As the LRA retreated in 2008 and orphans were able to be cared for by relatives, the Centre changed focus to concentrate on children affected by HIV, providing holistic care for them and their families, as well as building a school for all children in the community, breaking down the stigma of people living with HIV.
Monsignor Matthew Odong is the Vicar General of the Acholi Diocese and has been a priest for 30 years. Matthew is active in bringing together religious leaders in the region and caring for the people who survived the war. The war killed Catholic, Protestants, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians. He suffered under the persecution of the LRA on May 11th, 2003 when they attacked and abducted 41 seminarians. Matthew said, “I was a father to them and to see them in captivity was profoundly painful. Thirty escaped at different times but we still don’t know where the eleven are, if they are still captive or if they have died, gone to heaven and are praying for us. As a priest, I had to stay with my people to show that God had not forgotten them.”
Matthew is adamant that now is the time for reconciliation, rehabilitation, and resettlement in Northern Uganda. Despite the wounds of the past, the church is working for healing in the Acholi tribe. HART agrees, and now ten years on, PAORINHER has many achievements:
- The number of HIV+ children receiving healthcare has expanded from 33 to over 600.
- The number of children receiving high quality education in the school associated with PAORINHER had increased 33 to over 700.
- 320 families have received agricultural training and nutritional support.
- 600 chickens have recently been distributed to 6 sub-counties to boost income generation through egg-laying.
This year HART is celebrating ten years of fruitful partnership with PAORINHER, and praying for continued healing and reconciliation for Northern Uganda.
HART is a registered charity which provides aid and advocacy to people who suffer from persecution or oppression in conflict and post-conflict zones. They aim to empower local people by helping to establish projects for long-lasting change. It was founded in 2004 by Baroness Cox. You can contact HART here.