Friday, July 14, 2006

Dear Patient Friends

July 14, 2006

Dear Patient Friends,

According to the CIA fact book, the median age of a
person in Uganda is 15.

UNICEF is the division of the United Nations that
deals with children and children’s needs. You can
spot the word UNICEF at all angles in Kitgum. Usually
it’s black writing against a white background.
Sometimes it’s blue on white. The word UNICEF is
emblazed on jeeps that take the unkempt roads with
ease. The word is clear in the daylight on the huge
empty tents waiting to be filled by the night
commuting children at sundown. UNICEF is on the
packets of the iodine tablets to clear the water
against the cholera outbreak. It’s on scraps of tarp
that cover the burnt remains of the roofs of huts in
the camps built too close to each other to prevent

The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) targets children. But
then, children are most of Uganda. The LRA is a
rag-tag rebel group known internationally for
kidnapping children between the ages of 8 and 12. They
murder and force the children to watch or even
participate in the murder. Once they beat humanity
from their victims they recruit the young people to join
their ranks. They take girls. This is what is most
horrific in the eyes of the local people. The people shake
their heads hoping not to imagine the fate of the
girls. Sometimes, after months or years, the girls
escape - a baby or two on their backs.

Kitgum Town, with its one bank, a hospital (with one
microscope) and bicycle taxis, is the biggest city
many here have ever seen. Most people who are now
living in Kitgum are not from Kitgum. They will tell
anyone who asks that they are from a now abandoned
village, not too far, mostly within the 65 kilometers
between Kitgum and the Sudanese border. But with the
last 10 years of terror from the LRA, no small village
has been safe. The government set up camps. People left
their home villages, they left their community, their
rural school, their crops and their dead buried near
their family hut which they also abandoned. The LRA
raided the abandoned villages. They stole the crops and
burned all that could be burnt. In most cases, there
is no village left.

The camps are sprawling huts, small, built too close
together and full of children. Near each camp is an
army base protecting its residence from the next LRA
attack. Yet, few feel their children are safe. They
send them into town at night. A child packs a mat, a
blanket and heads to the UNICEF tents in well lit
areas of Kitgum. They find their way, younger
siblings in toe, to the hospital ground, school yards
and the football (soccer) fields. They lay on the
ground, the dust powdering their skin. They pull the
blanket – often shared – close to their chin or
over their heads and sleep as children sleep, angelic
and hopeful.

It cannot be said that anyone appears unhappy in
Kitgum. Perhaps because there has been peace for
three months. Actually, the raids stopped about six
months ago, but it took three months for the awful
frozen shock of terror to melt before people could
realize nothing has happened of late. There has been
no truce, no amnesty (to spite international media,
northern Ugandans are sure Kony will never fall for an
amnesty agreement – Museveni’s word is worthless).
The raids simply stopped. But so has the food.

The LRA, who hides in southern Sudan, grows in number
(by kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel
soldiers) and in size (most in the LRA are not full
grown adults) from the village raids. But now, with
villagers in the camps, there are no crops for the LRA
to raid. The hope is to starve off the rebels. But
in the process the villagers in the camp go without
food too. The World Food Program provides basics,
corn and oil and rice. A staple of this region is
millet, but the WFP doesn’t supply millet.

Right now, as I sit with my journal writing this
letter home, a young man greets me. He has a beaming
smile and wears brown clothes. His name is Simon and
his right arm is missing just above the elbow. He
looks about 16 and had heard I am from the North
America - a rarity in these parts. He wants to know
if I know Dr. John Wood, also from North America. He
knows little more of John Wood than his continent of
origin. I explained how very big North America is.
Simon assured me that he is fairly certain John Wood
is not from Mexico.

Simon also told me his father and older brother were
lost in an LRA raid. First their village was
attacked, then Simon was taken by the rebels. The
Ugandan military followed, attacking the rebels and
their hostages at the same time. In that second attack Simon
lost his arm and the LRA left him for dead. Simon was
taken to Fr. Tarcisio (who, incidentally, found his arm
when he went to bury the dead) who brought him to
John Wood, the head of St. Joseph Hospital in Kitgum.
From Simon’s beaming impression of North America, John
Wood must have made a wonderful impact on Simon’s

There is more to write but little time. I’ve now
transcribed what was in my journal to a computer which
is running on batteries because the electricity has
failed this morning. It’s dark and the battery is
draining fast.

So thank you for reading again. I am well.

love, molly