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Friday, June 2, 2023

Laying a path to peace

Following years of conflict, the reintegration of formerly abducted women and children born of war continues to pose challenges for northern Uganda. As the passing of a national transitional justice policy delays, many survivors in the region are looking elsewhere for recognition.

One such initiative is the “Peace Path”, a new monument in Gulu created by NGO Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice to recognise war-affected communities and encourage reconciliation between victims and their communities.

A safe place

The Peace Path was launched on 21 April 2017 at the Acholi cultural institution, Ker Kwaro Acholi, in Gulu, coinciding with the graduation of 32 formerly abducted women from a two weeks skills training programme called the “Wamare Young Women’s Institute”.

The training followed consultations with formerly abducted women who identified areas such as livelihoods and entrepreneurship as priority areas in their lives. It offered dancing, singing, yoga, meditation and devotion to “foster reconciliation and further promote [the participants’] own healing process,” according to Brigid Inder, the executive director for Women’s Initiatives.

“Creating a peaceful environment during the Institute through yoga, music and devotion or meditation is a good way to be reminded that they are in a safe place and to restore a sense of health since most of them suffered long term disabilities,” she says.

Inder says the Peace Path itself will provide an opportunity to mourn, remember and honour loved ones lost during the war in northern Uganda since there are not many public platforms available for this purpose.

Each of the 32 graduates from the Wamare Institute was given a tile brick with her name engraved on it which was placed on the Peace Path during the ceremony in Gulu.

“It is hoped the Peace Path will foster a sense of belonging, healing and reconciliation among those affected by and recovering from the war. [It] will be a form of bearing witness to all those who died and suffered during the conflict,” Inder says.

The Path will gradually grow as it is paved with the names of other victims of the LRA-related conflict, specifically those who were abducted as children, those that have died and other young victims. It is also to be open to anyone in the community who wishes to lay a brick for themselves or a loved one.

“We hope that this will create more acceptance of female returnees and children born in captivity. If the community fully embraces the Peace Path and participates in it this will be very sobering to see names of those killed, abducted and missing so that they don’t allow the same scenario to re-occur,” Inder said.

Show future generations

Evelyn Amony, the chairperson of the Women’s Advocacy Network, a grassroots organisation of war-affected women in northern Uganda, says the Peace Path is very important for personal reasons.

“My child went missing in 2004 when I was still in captivity. She was called Winnie Angeyocan. At the time she was four years old and got lost at a time when we were in South Sudan when UPDF soldiers fought with the LRA,” she says.

“By placing my child’s name on the Peace Path this will [hopefully] help with finding her as well as keeping her in our memory. The Peace Path will show future generations how dangerous war is because there are [still] so many people missing, who died and who were injured.”

Akello Susan, who was abducted by the LRA as a child and spent over 10 years in captivity, also laid a plaque.

“I feel [good about] laying the stones but I still pray for those still in captivity to be able to come back home safely without harm,” she said, “This is as a memorial for me so that when I am not alive my children and other people in Acholi will be able to remember me and the suffering I went through.”

Poli Sharon was abducted in Lira district at Acole Banya secondary school in 1993 and lived in captivity for over three years.

Shedding tears after placing her plaque she said the whole thing reminded her of her relatives and family members who were murdered during the time the LRA raided their village.

“But the commemoration is very important because it reminds us of where we have been, what we have gone through and were we are going as returnees,” she said.

We love peace

Ochora Emmanuel Lagedo, the deputy prime minister of the Acholi traditional cultural institution, says they are proud to host the Peace Path.

“This isn’t regular monument. It engages users because the path is followed for one to reflect … one has to make a decision to embrace life and peace. We Acholi love peace so the Peace Path gives opportunities to reflect and decide to promote peace.”

Lagedo points out that the Peace Path also leads to the Peace House, the multipurpose hall at Ker Kwaro Acholi.

“When the Peace Path reaches the multipurpose hall it changes to a ‘Peace House’ where peace is promoted. This is a place where warring parties come together to resolve their differences peacefully. With the Peace Path in place this widens access of people coming to Ker Kwaro Acholi not only for redress of cultural challenges but also for individuals or groups who want to find peace through a self-reflection process,” Lagedo said.

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