Night Commuters of Northern Uganda
Every evening they walked for miles to towns in Northern Uganda to be safe from the LRA Army of Joseph Kony
War was the rule of the day in northern Uganda. Families, villages fled in the Internally displaced camps, others went as far south as Kampala. Those who remained in their villages feared for their children and the children feared for the their lives, feared impending abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army led by the dreaded Joseph Kony.
Children began to sleep in towns for safety reasons. Every evening outside of Gulu, Kitgum, Pader and other places in the north of Uganda, thousands of children would make the trek into town for the night. At the height of the night commuting phase during 2003 up to 40,000 children sought refuge from the LRA in the towns of the north.
Carrying mats, blankets, school books, maybe some food they would enter the towns, seeking a place to sleep for the night. Hospital verandas, sidewalks beneath store awnings, taxi bus parks where they would find shelter in the open. Finally schools, and then some centers opened their doors. Some agencies would provide blankets, some food for the children, while other non-governmental agencies had nothing but space and safety.
It was miserable, a generation of children went to sleep each night without a mother or father putting them to bed, praying with them, giving words of comfort or a simple hug. A generation of children studied by the light of some store sitting on the street, or under the lights of a petrol station. Many of them determined to do well in school in spite of the present situation.
Night commuting brought safety from the LRA, but there were new dangers in the towns, dangers that the children did not think of. Adults would abuse some of the girls, rape and molestation became common occurence. Children became mothers as young as 12 years old.
Children would be robbed of their meager possessions, the centers established by World Vision, Noah's Ark and others helped, but some children preferred the street with its dangers and in some ways excitement of being able to do things they could not do if they were with their parents.
The situation was tragic and the world knew little about it until three young men came to Gulu and made a video which gave birth to Invisible Children, also the famous Gulu walk which has benefitted many children in the north of Uganda.
Sympathy sleep-ins became commonplace on college campuses in the west, and events like the Gulu walk raised the awareness of westerners regarding the plight of the night commuters of northern Uganda.
With the peace talk between the LRA and the Ugandan government a cessation of hostilities was signed and slowly safety returned to Northern Uganda closing most of the night commuter centers by the end of 2006.
Now in 2009, night commuting does not exist in the north of Uganda. Some of the night commuter children became street children in places like Gulu, only to be rounded up and returned to their parents or families.
Schools that were closed have reopened, but there is a dramatic need for more classrooms, schools, teachers that are qualified. The good news is that children are sleeping in their homes, instead on the streets in the towns of the north of Uganda.
The experiences of night commuting, the war, the fear of the LRA still affects the children, it is still in the back of their minds, but it has become somewhat easier in 2009.
The need for help, the need for assistance is great, for rebuilding of schools, of classrooms. There is a need for libraries, non-existent in most cases in schools, a need for the building of playgrounds and fields for football (soccer) and other athletic activities.
There is an increase in the number of volunteers from the west going to Northern Uganda, but so many more needed to help in projects that deal with sanitation in schools, water, learning and simply telling a child through their presence that someone cares...from Kampala...jon