Joseph is from Patongo in northern Uganda. He was only 15 years old when he was abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). His time with the LRA was terrifying: he was beaten, tied to other kidnapped children, and marched hundreds of miles to Sudan. Joseph was repeatedly forced to kill civilians and abduct children to join the LRA. He said he was not given a choice. “If you refused to kill,” says Joseph, “then you were killed by the LRA soldiers.” Joseph was also forced to walk with very heavy guns that hurt his back.
The rebels tried to brainwash the child soldiers so that they would not want to leave, but Joseph wanted to escape. During a militia operation, he managed to run away. But further challenges faced Joseph on his return. He was told his parents were dead and his sister, who had been taking care of his five younger siblings, had also died. Joseph was now the head of the household.
But Joseph also needed care of his own. “I was depressed,” he says. “I was too scared to close my eyes at night for fear the LRA would come back and take me when I was asleep. When I did get to sleep I would have vivid nightmares. I couldn’t concentrate and felt sick and had headaches all the time.” These are all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Then Joseph heard about our counselling training sessions and has attended three workshops. “Since the counselling training I feel a lot happier. I am able to go to my ‘safe place’ where I can relax if I start thinking about what happened to me. I am also teaching my younger siblings how to cope with their trauma too. When I grow up I want to be a counsellor and help others who have suffered from the LRA.”