Profile picture
Sally Hayden @sallyhayd
, 27 tweets, 10 min read Read on Twitter
Big & exciting day today: I'm in the car with three Lord's Resistance Army defectors. We're on the way to Gulu, northern Uganda, where they'll be reunited with their families for the first time in 16 years. They look serious in this pic, but really everyone is all smiles (Thread)
They were kidnapped as children aged 9, 13 & 16, by the militia led by Joseph Kony, which was responsible for taking 10,000s of children from northern Uganda & forcing them to become child soldiers. Until this week they didn't even know their families were still alive.
They defected in Banda, northeast DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) a few weeks ago, & arrived in Kampala on Wednesday. Then they went through a few days of procedure & paperwork with the Ugandan government's Amnesty Commission (pic from there).
The whole time David, who's coordinating everything, is getting calls from family members asking where we are, are we near, are we ok. One mother called him at 4am in excitement. They seemingly still don't believe this is real.
The man in the middle just spoke to his sister for the first time on the phone. "Everytime someone escaped I hoped it would be you but it wasn't. I thank God," she said. She told him she's married with kids. "I'm so overwhelmed & excited to see you," he responded.
She passed him on to her young son." "Who are you," the boy asked. "Your uncle," the escaped man replied. After so many years in the bush he doesn't speak the same language as his nephew, so they find it hard to understand each other.
There has been a big decrease in LRA defections since the US pulled its funding for finding Kony last year. That withdrawal also affected outreach initiatives, which used local radio to send messages to LRA fighters that they'd be safe if they leave.
These guys defected with one man's Congolese wife & two children. As they were both abducted as children themselves, it's not certain they'll get back together, but he says there's real love & he hopes so. First they'll both be reunited with their families. The kids stayed w her.
More calls from family members asking how far away we are. The answer is just over two hours.
Re funding: the pull of US funding & the decrease in NGO funding has had a big impact. The car we're driving in was crowdfunded by local NGO Pathways to Peace. These guys will need a lot of support reintegrating into their communities, & that's mostly coming from private donors.
We're listening to a song these guys listened to in the bush. It was snuck to them on SD cards & played over a local radio station. It includes all their names & says they'll be safe if they return. It's one of the things that encouraged them to defect.
Here's David, from Pathways to Peace, explaining some of the lyrics. There is still huge fear among the hundreds of remaining LRA fighters that they'll be killed or prosecuted if they return home, even though the Ugandan government gives a full amnesty.
Update: so Sam's family jumped the gun & had dozens of friends & relatives in Kamdini, about an hour before Gulu. They were dancing & ululating when we arrived, but David decided it might be too overwhelming for us to stop so his parents are driving ahead of us to greet him there
And here we go. LRA escapees reunion part one. #uganda #gulu
And here's part two: finally, a reunion with their families. These parents, siblings, aunts, uncles & cousins have waited at least 16 years not knowing if these men were alive.
(Sorry about the dodgy camerawork, I was doing several things at once.)
A few more pictures of today's reunions. One aunt told me she had been so upset after her nephew was abducted from home during the war she "went crazy". The family has thought of him every day since, she said, & when they found out he was alive they danced in joy.
Sam's mom actually pulled him onto her lap and held him there for about five minutes with her eyes closed. He was laughing at first & then smiling broadly the entire rest of the time.
& more. One detail I forgot to mention: Sam's family was traced by David with the story that he has a scar on his head from being accidentally hit by a tool as a child while farming potatoes. The first thing his father checked today was the top of the head to make sure it was him
"The only ID I know is the scar on my son's head," his father had said. Sam cut his hair this week so his parents could know it was him. It can be really hard to reunite families after so many years, when they were separated in a time of war, but every child remembers a story.
So, what happened next? There were speeches & then a strange silence as family members who were so excited realised they had no idea what to do next. It took about half an hour but the guys slowly began to separate into groups & chat to their relatives, & stayed there for hours.
These guys won't go back to their home communities for another week or two, when the community is ready to receive them. Obviously they'll need support for years into the future. A counsellor here told me this is the "honeymoon period", & PTSD often kicks in 3-4 years later.
They have a good network of other former LRA captives who escaped before them, including David, who I travelled with & whose story you can read about here: They offer each other support & advice. A few dropped by to visit yesterday & today.
They'll get counselling & are encouraged to tell their families everything that happened, so the family understand their problems & can help. There are also rituals like homecoming prayers & church visits, depending on religion, which help escapees feel they're starting anew.
The families have gone from thinking their children were dead to realising they're still alive & coming home in a matter of weeks. So it's best to have a slow reintegration so as to make sure it's not too overwhelming for anyone.
Also, these men have been living in a life of captivity, where they can't make choices for themselves & witnessed a lot of terrible things. So they need time to start processing everything & maybe begin to think about what they want from their futures.
Bosco, kidnapped in 2001, on his escape & reunion w his family: "This really shows there's nothing that defeats God. One cannot compete with God. Everything has a beginning & an end. Nothing is impossible."
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Sally Hayden
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member and get exclusive features!

Premium member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year)

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!