Photo: Seane Corn
We met with Invisible Children (InvisibleChildren.org), and they spoke to us about the conflict in Northern Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). We learned about the over 45,000 children who walk each night from their villages to the larger towns, sleeping en masse in bus stations and parks. They do this to avoid the nighttime raids meant to abduct children, often as young as 5, and force them into becoming soldiers. We heard testimonials from parents and siblings about how their own family members were stolen from their homes, made to join rebel armies, first starved, often made addicted to drugs, raped and then forced to murder.
Sometimes these children escaped the LRA only to return to their villages traumatized, pregnant and lost. Most often they stay, too addicted, brainwashed or ashamed to return home once having been forced to commit atrocities like murder. Many families have been torn apart, surviving in refugee camps, far from their villages, without available food or water. We will visit one of these refugee slums, called the Acholi Quarter, and meet the men, women and children who live there.
We also met with Pace, a partner organization with YouthAIDS (YouthAIDS.org), and learned about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Uganda and how this international emergency is affecting its people. HIV/AIDS, a global pandemic that is most evident throughout sub-Saharan Africa, has infected over 1 million people here in Uganda, creating over 1.2 million orphans as a result. Sixty-five percent of the people in rural areas are infected and most, because of lack of information and fear, don't even know they have it or are unwilling to be tested for fear of stigma and being ostracized. It is not uncommon for grandmothers to be raising their many grandchildren because their own children have died from this devastating, although preventable, disease.
It was exciting to go over to Pace's office and learn more about what they were doing to continue to raise awareness and improve the health of vulnerable Ugandans. They introduced us to their various programs of education and prevention, including care packages they make that are distributed to thousands of people with HIV. These packages include a safe drinking water system, mosquito nets, condoms and antibiotics. When used correctly, they prevent secondary infections like TB, malaria and other opportunistic infections that can seriously weaken their already compromised health, resulting in death.
Another program they shared with us was the Go Getter's Club, which uses peer groups trained to target college-age girls with positive, empowering and lifesaving information about safe sex and HIV/AIDS. These young girls are at risk because of "sugar daddies," older men who seduce or intimidate them with gifts, money or promises in exchange for sex. Multigenerational sex is a huge issue in Uganda, and Pace is committed to using the media to de-romanticize these affairs, instead creating a stigma against the men who desire and seek out such relationships. These men are usually married and often exploit multiple young women simultaneously, all running the risk of infection as a result. Off the Mat (OTM) has contributed a portion of the money we raised to support the Go Getter's Club in their effort to empower and educate young women.
Why childbirth is a dirty business in Uganda