Why this matters
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
AWACH, UGANDA — Like every young boy, Louis Lakor grew up chasing chicken in the backyard of the family house in northern Uganda, he had dreams of becoming a teacher some day. However, when he finally set foot in a local primary school, aged seven, it was as an armed killer.
He’d been abducted during a night raid, and forced to become a child soldier with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, who terrorized northern Uganda for about two decades before being driven out of the country by a military offensive in 2005. Led by Joseph Kony, who has since been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
As a child solder, Lakor had been ordered by his kidnappers, to “shoot everything you see.” – he did.
“Otherwise they would have killed me,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation some 20 years later, looking out on the lush countryside near his home village of Awach, about 60 km (37 miles) south of Uganda’s border with South Sudan.
The LRA, has retreated to a jungle straddling the borders of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic, was notorious for kidnapping children for use as fighters and sex slaves.
Lakor escaped from the LRA, aged 11, when his guards were distracted, and returned to his village, where he found his parents dead. The end of the war made his life even more complicated. While the government gives aid to ex-rebels, since he was below the legal age of criminal responsibility [14 years], he did not qualify. And his experience of hunger, hatred and destitution nearly drove him back into the hands of the LRA — this time willingly.
Transformation – Child Soldier to Entrepreneur
He had not eaten for two weeks when he was introduced to Peter Owiny Mwa, owner of local business Baka General Motors, who decided to give him a chance. He was first employed as a cleaner, and later trained him as a mechanic
Thought the four years spent as a rebel still torments him, however Louis Lakor, 27, is now a Founder of the Baka Youth Training Centre located in Gulu, Northern Uganda found his break. Now a smartly dressed 27-year-old, he is putting the horrors of the bush behind him, and supporting other ex-child soldiers get back to their feet learning entrepreneurial skills, from vehicle repairs and carpentry to tailoring and hairdressing.
One of the students Godfrey Oloya, 18, a trainee mechanic, was born while in LRA captivity and still has a bullet lodged in his arm, a “souvenir” of his escape under gunfire when he was seven. Surrounded by a group of budding mechanics they were training on the rusting remains of a pea-green Volkswagen Beetle from the 1970s.
The Trainees have gone on to set up workshops in their villages, enabling them start new lives, despite years of missed schooling.
For Lakor, his work is also a path to reconciliation – meaning he is once again welcomed in his home village.
Reuters ; Funding for this story was provided by the International Women’s Media Foundation.