A place to call home

Acen*, a child born into LRA captivity, is received home by her paternal family with prayer in September 2016. Benard Okot/Justice and Reconciliation Project.

Acen*, a child born into LRA captivity, is received home by her paternal family with prayer in September 2016. Benard Okot/Justice and Reconciliation Project.

Acen* is a fifteen year old girl who was born into LRA captivity. She has been living with her mother in Gulu since 2005 when her mother escaped with her as a young baby. Acen had asked her mother, Janet Aloyo*, several times about her father. Her mother told her that he had died in the bush, which meant that they could not locate his home. Acen is in secondary school and her mother finds it difficult to pay her school fees. Being a single mother, Aloyo also singlehandedly takes care of four other children she had after returning from captivity.

This year, the Women’s Advocacy Network, an association of women who have been affected by the LRA war, has partnered with JRP and Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice to help situations like these by facilitating family reunions and dialogues. Aloyo is one of several women who have now used the network successfully to trace the paternal homes of their children. Initially, she had started looking three months after she returned from captivity. A decade later, however, she had seen very little success. She told me there was only person whom she knew as a relative to the family of the father of her child was a woman, an aunt she used to talk to about taking her daughter home. But her efforts were frustrated when the Aunt died and she lost her only connection to the family.

“When she died I thought that was the end of everything,” Aloyo said.

She found it difficult to approach the family of her child because she was afraid that they may not listen to her or believe her. She also feared the family may be hostile to her since she knew many of the family members were killed by rebels during the war. She was worried that going to them to talk about their past would add more pain to them.

According to Aloyo, the network of women together with JRP made her see light at the end of tunnel by facilitating dialogues between her, her family and Acen’s father’s family.

This past September, at Acen’s father’s home, it all culminated on a sunny day when over thirty people were eagerly waiting to receive Acen, Aloyo and Aloyo’s family members. A team of theology students led by their pastor, who happened to be Acen’s uncle, was also present to grace the home for the coming of their daughter. Acen was welcomed with a prayer and smeared with anointing oil on her forehead as a symbol of her becoming a part of the family.

Aloyo was overwhelmed with the way she and her daughter were received. “Today, it is like I am giving birth to this girl again. My child has an identity and a place to belong,” she said proudly.

The family promised Acen support to see her through her education and to provide for her basic needs. Her mother was also promised land to use for farming. On the day, Acen assured her family that she would strive hard to complete her education.

It marked the beginning of relationship between the two families and Acen finally has a place to call home.

“I will take her as my own daughter and we will share the same food,” Acen’s uncle said during the event. “We will eat from the same table. When she is crying I will be also crying. If I am laughing she will laugh. The past has gone already, you are home. Be blessed and we love you so much.”

*Not their real names