This is the second of three case studies, written back in July, on the work of Friends of Orphans (FRO), our partner organization in Uganda. FRO founder Anywar Ricky Richard was the recipient of the annual Harriet Tubman Freedom Award. Read the first dispatch here.
Beatrice Anyeko was 18 when, in 1999, she was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to marry a rebel soldier. For 5 years she was enslaved in the bush, forced by the LRA and a will to survive to commit unthinkable acts. Through an interpreter, she says, “It was bad. We had nowhere to sleep, no blankets, no food, no shoes, only torn clothing.” She shows us the scars on her legs, bitter reminders of the wild and unforgiving terrain.” If you came across civilians you could take their clothes and shoes. Sometimes we would lay ambush on the roadside, waiting for people returning from the markets or the gardens, anywhere with food. We had to in order to survive.” Her gaze at her feet, she explains that this was something she did by force not by will, and that it still doesn’t make her feel good inside. “But if you don’t, she explains, they will kill you.”
Years after returning from the bush, Beatrice retained a deep anger over what had happened to her. “I was very quarrelsome, she shared, I would get so angry and everyone, even my own children, feared me so they kept distant.” Day after day, Beatrice remained isolated by her own rage and haunted by visions of life in the bush that sometimes come when she closes her eyes.
That began to change when, earlier this year, community leaders offered her the opportunity to participate in a program offered by Free the Slaves and its local partner Friends of Orphans. Beatrice, long known for her quarrelsome nature, was invited to become a peace scout. She would receive training in conflict mediation and resolution, be equipped with a bicycle for quick transport, and then be called on as needed to help resolve disputes. Beatrice accepted the chance.
She now travels by bike throughout her parish to mediate arguments, which may range from petty spats to quarrels over land or property to domestic violence and other serious crimes. For each case, she explains, she attempts to hear all sides of the story and to seek out the root cause of the conflict. She listens, counsels and advises, urging forgiveness and mutual respect. She refers those cases that are too severe or complex for her to resolve on her own to local peace committees, also supported through the program.
The training and the peace scout role have given Beatrice new reason to hope. “It has changed my life,” she shared. She has passed on what she learned to others and sees the changes in her own family: she and her husband now resolve their own arguments peacefully and her children no longer fear her. Her anger is subsiding. “I feel better about life,” she concluded, “I feel that I have a better future.”