At a holding center run by a Catholic relief organization in the northern Uganda town of Pader, ten young mothers and their babies were preparing to go home. They’d flown there from Gulu in a UNICEF-chartered plane. Among the young women was Beatrice, and as soon as she walked into the building a teenage girl rushed up to her. “You’re alive!” the girl screamed, high-fiving Beatrice.
“We were best friends in the bush,” Beatrice told me. “She thought I’d been killed by the gunships.”
Such reunions are typically happy affairs, but formerly abducted children face a grim future. “They’ll need counseling for years,” Akongo said, adding there’s little or no chance of their getting any.
One day at the Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, I saw Yakobo Ogwang throw his hands in the air with pure glee as he ran to his 13-year-old daughter, Steler, seeing her for the first time since the LRA abducted her two years before. “I thought she was dead,” he said in a shaking voice. “I’ve not slept since we learned she’d returned.” The girl’s mother, Jerodina, pulled Steler’s head to her bosom and sobbed. Steler stared silently at the ground.