Day Four:

Posted: August 16, 2007 in Blog

Our final day in Lira began with a trip out to Erute IDP Camp, which was reportedly one of the worst of the IDP camps in the region. The reports proved to be true. It once had 29,000 people living there, but today there are about 1,100. We sat down on wooden chairs with the vice-chairman of the camp (each camp has a resident who keeps a record of people there, and speaks on behalf of the camp). The vice-chairman, David, wore ripped jogging pants and a stained sweater. He was extremely insightful in talking about the camp’s history and the conditions the current residents are living in.

“The government is trying to force us to go home,” he said. Most of those still left were from further north, regions that border territory that still face violence. So they stay here in the camp, despite the fact that the government has withdrawn any and all forms of support. They have no medical services, the school was closed and any food aid long disappeared.

“They’re trying to force us to go home before it’s safe for us to do that,” he said.

The closest water source is half a kilometre away in a village, but it’s not clean. I asked one of the other residents whether they have any way of filtering the water for drinking. He reached over and tugged the shirt his brother beside him was wearing. He mimed pouring water through the shirt and drinking what came out on the other side. He half-smiled and shrugged.

We then met Eria, 19, who was abducted by the LRA in 2003, along with his two brothers. One brother was killed, but Eria and his older brother, who was visiting him in the camp when we were there, escaped after seven months in captivity. Trying to understand English, he would focus intensely on you as you asked him a question. He would sometimes try to answer in English, but invariably he would turn to the vice-chairman, David, sitting beside us for help in translating. While answering he would look down at the ground and speak in a high-pitched voice that was barely above a whisper.

When he was in custody with the rebels, they smeared all the kids with a shear nut oil, and they told the kids that this substance would force them to come back to the rebels if they tried to escape. Sort of like a magnetic pull back to the rebels. The kids were informed that such escape attempts would result in death when they were drawn back to the rebel camps. Using the same substance, they would tell the teenage soldiers that the oil would make them bulletproof when fighting the army. Who knows how many of them died thinking they were invincible.

He then explained how an army helicopter attacked the rebel camp he was being held in. A piece of shrapnel hit him in the chest and he pulled up his short to show us. Here is Eria:

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Here’s what he said when I asked him what his life is like now:

“I feel my future is no more. I have not been given a chance to go to school, have not been given any support by the government. I am a dead living thing with no future. I have no education, no training, I am separated from my family and there are many like me. I want the government to give technical training so maybe we can have a future. But we have no voice, no one listens to us. We need someone to listen, or we have no future. We’re stranded.”

We spoke a little longer and then it was time to leave. The whole time, through the interview and then as Eria showed us the 6 x 8 mud-brick hut he lives in with the leaking grass roof, he spoke through a translator. But just as we were about to leave he took my hand and closing his eyes to concentrate, he said in broken English, “May God bless you. You have…come…here… to…do…something that will… help…(this was more English than he had said the entire time we spoke so he really began struggling)… my future…. May God bless you with… (he’d now run out of words that he could remember, but kept searching)… May God bless you… with…. with…something.”

It wasn’t so much what he said that hit me so hard, it’s the fact that something as simple as sitting down and talking with him elicited such a powerful response on his part.

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