John is only 22 years old but has already experienced unspeakable trauma in his short life. Abandoned by his father when he was two years old, he was brought up by his mother, who is severely disabled. When John was four, he witnessed the violent murder of his brother by the neighbouring Karamojong tribe. Just two years after that, John was abducted by Joseph Kony’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army. He did not see his family for another 11 years.
The LRA took John to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. He was beaten and starved. One man took pity on him, carrying him when he could no longer walk and ensuring that he got some food. But then that man was killed, and things became even worse. Apart from having no clothes and resorting to eating leaves to stay alive, John was forced to watch others being murdered, and then to start murdering people himself. He finds it hard to talk of this time in the bush. “The story is very painful,” he says. “I cannot narrate all I did and all that happened to me while in the bush.”
When he was 16, John saw his chance for escape. He was chosen to lead a group of 360 soldiers to South Africa. On the journey, he began having pains in his joints and told the others to go ahead without him. At last, he was free. But he was also alone in the bush, injured, and had trouble finding food and water.
When he’d almost given up hope, a UN peacekeeper found him. John was taken to a Congolese army barracks for two days, then returned to Uganda. The NGO World Vision took care of him for a year while they located his family; in 2007, at the age of 17, John was finally reunited with his mother and two siblings in Patongo.
But the war was not over for Uganda or for John. He was forced to flee his home and ended up in Patongo, where he met Agnes, who now runs the Patongo Counselling Community Outreach (PCCO) programme. They enrolled him on Network for Africa’s trauma counselling programme to help him cope with and overcome his traumatic past.
In 2011, Network for Africa’s Lioness Fund offered John a scholarship. He is now at secondary school, catching up on the 11 years of schooling he missed when he was captive in the bush. As much as he appreciates returning to school, John continues to struggle. His uncle recently sold the land that his family was living on – John wanted to contest the case in court but couldn’t afford the legal fees.
Despite all of the hardship he has endured, John remains strong. He is dedicated to completing his education and helping his family. At school, he has been elected as a disciplinary prefect and serves as the spiritual team leader for all students. His favourite subject is geography and he wants to become an ambassador. But most of all, John wants to help support his family. He hopes his education will help him do just that.