SOME 38 million people worldwide have fled their homes and been forced to survive elsewhere within their own country to escape armed conflict and violence. Living in constant fear, all that they own has been destroyed or left behind – and it’s impossible for them to earn a living or access essential services.
In the second of two reports, Concern Worldwide’s Darren Vaughan travelled to northern Uganda to meet some of the nearly two million people who were internally displaced after decades of violence by the Lord’s Resistance Army - and who are now rebuilding their lives with the support of people from Northern Ireland.
She sits on the exposed roots of the village mango tree and feeds her three-month-old daughter. Margaret Ayaa never thought she would see this day. The 49 year old is glad to be alive, comforted from nursing her youngest, Florina, in her arms, and relieved that the nightmare of decades of fear and violence is over. But she will never forget.
In 2002, Margaret, her husband and three children did not want to leave their village of Acano East in Pader, Uganda. However, when Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels moved closer to their community, they could stay no longer.
“Every day you would hear that somebody was killed,” said Margaret.
“After a while, I began to think that everyone in the whole country would be gone. Sometimes, I would spend two days in the bush without eating - hiding for dear life.”
For more than 20 years, the people of northern Uganda were terrorised by one of Africa’s most brutal militia groups. The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, became notorious for its campaign of murder and abduction - taking captive tens of thousands of young men, women and children to serve as sex slaves and fighters.
At the height of the conflict, 1.84 million people were displaced. Abandoning their homes and villages, they were moved into 251 government camps or ‘protected villages’ across the region. It was to one of these camps that Margaret and her family eventually fled. But their torment did not end there.
“We had no means to generate an income because we didn’t have land on which to grow food. Every day was just about survival, about getting by,” she said.
“Sometimes, we would sell water and if we earned $0.15 a day we would buy what little we could for the family. As a mother, I would do without for a day because I would first feed my children. I would sit and watch them eat. It was obvious to me that if I ate also, the children would not be satisfied, they would not have enough.”