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Creating safer countries: recovering from war in northern Uganda

News and Press Release
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How UK aid is helping thousands of young people - many of them former child soldiers

“It takes skill to do” explains David Ojok, as he levels the mortar on a windowsill. “I couldn’t have done this job without training”.

David, 18 years old, is a bricklayer in Gulu, Northern Uganda. He is one of thousands of young people who, in the last two years have been given a brighter future through vocational training – in skills such as building, catering, electrical engineering and farming.

The training is provided by the Northern Uganda Youth Development Centre, which is supported by aid from the UK. As the centre’s Director Anthony Watuwa explains, the opportunities they provide are desperately needed in Northern Uganda: “many of the young people here simply didn’t have the chance to go to school”.

The young people being trained by Anthony and his staff belong to a generation that had its childhood stolen by war. For more than two decades the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group in Northern Uganda, carried out its campaign against the Ugandan Government by terrorising the local population and abducting some 60,000 children, turning them into slaves and child-soldiers.

At the height of the conflict, nearly 2 million northern Ugandans were forced from their homes, living in displacement camps. The local economy was destroyed, and a generation left traumatised.

Speaking at the building site where he now works, David remembers vividly the day he was abducted in 2005, at the age of thirteen. “I was walking home from school, playing with my friends, when suddenly one of them shouted ‘run, run!’. They had seen the rebels, but I was too little - I couldn’t run fast enough to get away and they caught me”.

From despair to hope

David’s ordeal lasted for 18 months, during which time he was forced to move each day, trained as a soldier and then ‘recruited’ in a ceremony that saw him beaten with the flat blade of a ‘panga’, or machete. “That was when I gave up hope of ever seeing my family again. When they gave me the gun, I resigned myself to my fate”.

But a year later, David did manage to escape, turning himself in at a Ugandan army barracks. After six months of rehabilitation in Gulu, David returned to his village and his family. The first person that he saw on his return to his village was his best friend, Geoffrey, who had been with him the day he was abducted. “I’m back” David told him, “and I want to get my life back”.

However, David found that he could not return to school – his family was too poor to pay the fees for secondary education. So when he heard about the opportunity to get training at the Northern Uganda Youth Development Centre, he jumped at the chance.

“I heard an announcement on the radio and got on my bike to ride the 32 kilometres to the centre to register. There were lots of people there and I couldn’t register, but they told me to come back the next day. So I rode back to my village that night, and back again the next day.”

“The training was hard at first, but now I have a job and I love construction. It brings in money, keeps you busy and you see something growing. I earn 60,000 shillings (£20) a week. I have a savings account now, and send money back home to my parents.

“Without this training, I possibly would be dead. I would have been pushed into stealing for food. The centre changed my life.”

Changing lives by making countries safer

Nearly a quarter of the world’s poorest people live in countries where conflict and violence put the brakes on any possible progress. When trapped in a warzone, parents cannot risk their lives to go to work. Children are taken out of schools that are in danger of being attacked. And mothers will not go to the local clinic when it is unsafe to travel.

We are doing more than helping to end violence – we are also dealing with the aftermath of conflicts and helping to prevent them starting in the first place. To achieve this, we are focusing 30% of UK aid on war torn and unstable countries by 2014.

UK aid is supporting the recovery of northern Uganda with:
A five year programme that has helped 10,000 vulnerable people to return home from camps
Vocational training for 4,000 young people like David, who missed out on their education
Match-funding for the private sector to help kick-start the local economy.