Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Schools Open Doors to Sudanese LRA Victims

Refugee children get opportunity to pursue their studies under agreement between Kampala and South Sudan.
By Bill Oketch

Sixteen-year-old David Amanya from South Sudan remembers the day Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, rebels raided the Acol Pii internal refugee camp in northern Uganda and killed his father.



It was seven years ago, says Amanya, yet details of his father’s death are still vivid, and bring tears to his eyes when he talks about that day.



Amanya’s father was shot dead, as the LRA fighters plundered and burned the camp. Many children, including Amanya’s two sisters and three brothers, were abducted that same day, said the teenager.



Amanya, now studying in northern Uganda, is among the thousands of Sudanese who lost family and friends during the decades of fighting that raged in South Sudan between the LRA and the Sudanese People Liberation Army, SPLA, once led by the late John Garang.



Many of them tried to escape the violence in South Sudan by settling in internal refugee camps in northern Uganda, which did not prove much safer until after the 2006 peace negotiations began between the government and the LRA.



For a number of years, the LRA, headed by Joseph Kony, was given a safe haven in South Sudan, with the Sudanese government in Khartoum using the Ugandan rebels as a proxy force to fight the SPLA.



That support dwindled, however, in 2002 when Sudan gave the green light to Uganda to pursue the LRA across the border into South Sudan.



The LRA is currently holed up in the Garamba National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where it has recently resumed vicious attacks and abductions.



The rebels’ Sudanese victims are now trying to rebuild their lives. As part of that process, those who found their way to northern Uganda are being allowed to send their children to local schools, under an agreement between Kampala and South Sudan.



About 1,000 Sudanese children are now attending classes in the north. Some 50 of them are pupils at the Lira-based Almond College, sponsored by the World Emergency Relief, WER, an international aid group that works in conflict zones.



Like Amanya, many of the students at the college have suffered terrible ordeals in South Sudan and northern Uganda.



“I missed death narrowly [in South Sudan],” said Stephen Lukwete, 18. “The rebels came and surrounded our grass-thatched house, and started shooting at us. I managed to escape. But my parents were killed in that raid.



“Although I escaped the attack, I did not know where I was going. I only found myself in the Acol Pii [refugee] camp in 2003.”



While he is thankful for the opportunity to pursue his studies in Uganda, Lukwete said he and others are struggling to meet Uganda’s higher education standards.



“We want the Ugandan government and local and international non-governmental organisations to help us finish our studies,” he said.



David Ohure, 14, says the LRA killed his father three years ago as he was accompanying children who planned to take a school exam in Kitgum.



After his father died, Ohure’s uncle helped pay for his school fees. But then his uncle was killed by the LRA in 2006 during a trip to Pader.



Without parental support, Ohure said he struggles to pay for his schooling. But he said that won’t dissuade him from trying to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor.



Almond College’s Sudanese students have formed an association to lobby for the rights of Sudanese now studying in schools throughout Uganda.



Led by Seriano Eriib, the association also keeps the students in touch with their relatives in South Sudan.



Sudanese students told IWPR that they like the atmosphere at Almond College because it is one of the few schools in northern Uganda that promotes the mingling of Sudanese and Ugandans.



Patrick Olet, coordinator for Uganda National Student Association, told IWPR that the Sudanese students must help redesign the school curriculum so that it more closely meets their needs.



For many students, said Olet, the change they find in Uganda is dramatic, as levels of literacy in northern Uganda are much higher than in South Sudan.



”We are moving towards globalisation where education is very important,” said Olet.



Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained reporter.