Richard Akena – Child Soldier that escaped the LRA
Former Child Soldier – Caring for Orphans in Northern Uganda
It is morning near Pader in the Kitgum District of Northern Uganda. The children are awakening and getting ready for a breakfast of hot porridge, there is soft chattering going on as the children prepare for the day, once in a while laughter.
Richard Akena has been up for some time – thoughts of the needs of Pader Orphans Caring Project are ever before him. He enters the cooking area, takes a look to where the supplies are kept; his eyes only meet empty shelves.
Peace has come to Northern Uganda – fragile –nevertheless since June of 2006 peace has returned to the areas ravaged by an internal war waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army and its infamous and villainous leader Joseph Kony.
Slowly the rebuilding of the North is taking place, the infrastructure is being rebuild at a snails pace, Richard Akena is happy about that but his struggle is a bit different, his mission in life is rebuilding the lives of children who have suffered so deeply during the war years, whose hearts still tremble with fear as night comes, whose faces show the emotional scars within, some of the children show the visible scars of war such as lips, ears, noses chopped off by machetes which were wielded for the most part by child soldiers. Children, but children whose heart and souls were removed by the LRA through brain washing, instilling fear in the abducted children and its ruthless, demonically led and inspired master Joseph Kony who took children from their homes, families, villages and made them into monsters such as Uganda had never seen. Children who in cold blood killed members of their own family, their own clans and their own tribe – the abducted children turned into killers, like zombies running amok.
Richard Akena – was one of those abducted children turned into killers by their captors. He was not captured once, but four times.
Richard was born when the Lord’s Resistance Army was already on a rampage, he grew up in fear of them, one never knew when the LRA would strike, Richard Akena and thousands like him were robbed of their childhood, of their innocence, of their ability to laugh and dream of a hope filled future.
In 1994 the LRA attacked the home of his parents, they were able to flee but Richard and two friends were inside – He and another boy by the name of Moses were taken, while another boy was left behind and the house burned badly burning Otim the left behind boy, fortunately he survived. After Richard’s and Moses capture they were rescued by the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force. They were most blessed.
The second time Richard was captured by the LRA was at his grandfather’s house, he was badly beaten and once again the Uganda People’s Defense Force rescued him from the clutches of the LRA.
The third time, his family village was attacked, his parents killed – Richard was wounded but managed to escape, but the loss of his parents was hard to take.
The fourth time there was no rescue – Richard Akena was on his way to school when he was captured by the LRA…a fourteen year old boy’s life being changed forever.
Beaten, brainwashed, coerced, Richard was turned from a 14 year old into a killer, a child soldier, where he only thought of self-preservation and did what he was told to do. He saw and did things; he never thought were possible, his mind became numb; his heart cold and yet there was a flicker of hope within to escape to leave the insanity and cruelty of the LRA behind.
Richard Akena as a teenager saw death, participated in killings, saw and participated in lootings, abductions, beatings, the cutting off of lips, noses, ears, and limbs, all leaving his heart and soul imprinted with images that would flash by him day and night for years to come.
The LRA along with Richard Akena moved from Uganda to South Sudan and back to Uganda for raids on villages, mostly from Joseph Kony’s own tribe the Acholi people, but also the Langi and later the Teso. Nothing was sacred, violence for violence sake; this was not about the overthrow of the government of Yoweri Museveni, simply demonically inspired destruction of a people who wanted to live in peace.
Richard was made a corporal since he distinguished himself in battles and raid he was nicknamed Apiiremo meaning Blood since he was a tough fighter who did not show fear…and yet within there was the glimmer of hope of going home, or what was left of it.
Richard Akena’s LRA was attacked by the Ugandan Army and he began to ran away, 12 kilometers in all, he came across some hunters who were out and killed them fearing to be captured, finally he reached safety in Acholibur and a government official placed him in a Displaced People’s Camp, but there was no food for him, the World Food Program would only hand out food once a month and Richard went without food for three days.
A kind lady took him in and fed him and gave him shelter. He went to Kampala, hoping for a better life, only to find more despair. It was hard to adjust from a being a child soldier to living as a civilian, normality eluded him and that is when he had encounter with Jesus and purpose and meaning entered his life.
He pursued an education finishing High School and then onward to higher education even pursuing a Degree in Public Administration from Makerere University.
As he returned to the North of Uganda he began to see the ugly fruit of what the LRA had sown and caused. Children who lived in fear, scarred within, orphans whose parents had been killed by the LRA, children who had been physically maimed by lips, ears, noses being cut off, hands being amputated by a machete, but most of all he saw orphans, the LRA war produced countless of parentless children in Northern Uganda.
Richard established Pader Orphan Caring Project which is a registered Nonprofit Organization in Uganda taking in the throw away children of the area giving them a place to call home. Richard did not and still today has little funding-the need is so great-but his heart is greater than the need and he prays each day for the daily bread of the children and somehow, just somehow little miracles happen.
Richard Akena, former child soldier with the Lord’s Resistance Army is now a soldier in the Army of his Lord – he is a voice for the voiceless – a person who has found his true purpose in life, to care for those who were child soldiers like him, who like himself were made orphans by the LRA and those scarred physically and emotionally by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Life is tough in the Pader area of Uganda, it is the area with the lowest life expectancy in Uganda – 29 years – it is an area that needs infra structure such as schools, clinics and hospitals, wells that provide clean water, roads, the rebuilding of villages that were un-occupied while the war raged on for 20 some years in Northern Uganda.
Richard demonstrates the power of inspiration– Richard is a man with a dream to help the helpless of Northern Uganda – each day that dream becomes more of a reality – the ghosts of his past still haunt some nights – but he also knows that God turns the curses of one’s past into blessings.
Joseph Kony sowed the seeds of violence and despair – Richard is sowing seeds of hope for a brighter future for the orphans and former child soldiers of Northern Uganda…the shelves in the store room of the orphanage may be empty, but thanks to Richard the hearts of the children are full…from Kampala…jon
Volunteer Opportunities for individual and or Team are there for those interested investing yourself in the lives of children orphaned by the conflict. There are over 300 children at the orphanage – children who are in need of assistance and care – a volunteer team can make a visible impact in the lives of the children there.
Pader Orphans Caring Project
If you like to assist a child in the Pader Orphans Caring Project - feel free to write to Richard Akena at his email just below - or call him in Uganda.
Tel: +256782718477, +256775350306