As a twelve-year-old, he was taken prisoner and forced to kill. Now he is free, but it has had its price.
It is difficult to imagine that the thin fifteen year old in front of me has lived as a prisoner and guerilla soldier for three years. Oroma Jimmy shakes my hand before he sits down on a bench underneath a tree giving shadow for the warm sun. He looks down on the ground with eyes that has seen more than the wildest fantasy could imagine. At least 25.000 children in Uganda can tell a story like the one of Oroma. About a life as an innocent piece in an armored guerilla war without goal and purpose.
“Armed rioters came to our village. We tried to escape, but they captured us” starts Oroma. That is three years since now. Oroma was twelve years at that time, and was on his way home from the last day of school before summer vacation, together with his three year younger brother. Little did he know that this was to become his first day of a three year long nightmare.
They hit us with sticks so we fell to the ground. A woman in the village was forced to show the villains where the rest of the children were hiding. They gathered all the children and pushed us all in a mud hut. They were about to put the hut on fire, when I, as an only child, was taken out by one of the rioters. The rest of the children were burned inside.
Having taken Oroma, the rioters continued their bloody mission through the jungle. Children as young as four years, was kidnapped for being used as guerilla soldiers. The twelve year old Oroma was at a perfect age for becoming an excellent warrior, and already in his first couple of days he was tested.
“They told me to kill one of the other children who hadn’t followed the rioters command. I said I was scared, and did not want to. Then they told me to lie down, and they hit me hard in my head with a rod. They asked if it hurt, and I answered yes. They told me to do the same with the boy. They gave me a stick, and I hit him in his head till he died”.
Oroma tells about the welcome awaiting them when the new soldiers were gathered for registration. The adult soldiers took care of that
“They told us never to cry, and started to hit our backs with sticks. I started crying at the fortieth hit, so they said the previous hits didn’t count. They started all over again, and hit me another 63 times.”
The guerilla life that awaited Oroma was traumatic: Almost no food, dirty water, infections, long walks without shoes, and always escaping from the government’s bombs and soldiers. His worst experience waited when the soldier arrived at a random village. When one of the villagers shot one of the rioters in self defense, eight of the village children was captured and back tied as punishment.
“They knew I was a coward. That’s why they told me to kill them. When I hesitated, I was back tied and hit hard in the head with an iron shaft. I gave in, and killed the first four of them”.
The translator takes a brief pause, and tells me that from here, she’ll only translate the story in brief. She could not handle the details. Oroma is staring empty in front of him, and continues to tell in the smallest details how he killed the innocent victims.
“I begged to let go. They didn’t allow me”.
The price of freedom
It is estimated that 25.000 children has been abducted and used as child soldiers. Most likely, this number is twice or three times as high. Most of them has been abducted as children, and spent as much as ten years in the jungle. When they return, they’re facing tremendous amount of challenges. Many of the children are experiencing enormous traumas, and many times, their families do not wish to have any contact with their “guerillachildren”.
In the city of Gulu, Christian mission organizations are prepared to help these children towards a better life.
“I want to study and learn something so that I can survive” says Oroma. His contact with his family has been very limited after he escaped the rioters. His parents are divorced. His mother lives in another city, and his father is showing very little interest to support his son. A life in a village is very risky, because many of the children who have managed to escape, are being taken prisoners again. Most times, those who have escaped are being punished with death.
“I’m afraid of being abducted again. The last thing I want is being taken back to the rioters and experience the same pain again. All I want now is an ordinary life.”
Written by David André Østby. Translated by Emily Huyck and Harald.