Op-Ed: Lakang sub-county, where women and children are on the edge

March 26, 2024

On March 26, 2024, Irene Naikali Ssentongo, Country Leader, The Hunger Project-Uganda published an op-ed in New Vision, one of Uganda’s leading news outlets to commemorate the launch of our newest epicenter, Amuru. The people living near Amuru are working to overcome the scars of conflict to create a world without hunger.  The original article is available here

Twenty-three years ago, Lakang sub-county in Amuru district was the epicentre of the Lord’s Resistance Army civil conflict.

Almost all the young men and women in their 20s today and above, together with the elders, were all living in internally displaced camps.  Eventually the guns went silent and people here returned to their communities.

But as we all know, real peace especially for the women and children, does not necessarily mean the absence of war.

The Hunger Project works with communities to address those inequities that cause hunger to persist.

We believe in listening to people, embarking on a journey that usually starts with “I can’t” and moves to “Yes, I can do this!”

We are grateful to the government of Uganda, especially His Excellency, President Yoweri Museveni, who accepted to be our chief patron when we started our work about 20 years ago.

His Excellency the President commissioned our first epicentre in Mpigi, Senge sub-county about 22 years ago. Since then we have been to more than 10 districts with our Epicentre Strategy journeying with communities in their quest to end hunger.

An epicentre is a one stop networking point that the community uses to galvanise its efforts against hunger, poverty, domestic violence and all other issues that stand in the way of development.

The community leads by providing the land and The Hunger Project assists in setting up the structures such as a community hall, a health center III, an early child learning center, a village bank and any facility necessary for growth. The community then takes ownership in leading and facilitating their growth.

Last year, the district leadership of Amuru invited and took us on an awareness visit to Lakang sub-county. An area with very fertile soils yet some of the highest poverty indicators in that region.

The district leadership had seen the transformation that was happening in the nearby district of Nwoya, where our epicentre in Purongo sub-county is fast changing people’s lives.

For Lakang sub-county, women and children are living on the edge. The guns might have fallen silent more than 20 years ago in this sub-county, but for majority of the women, the psychological trauma of war is still ever present.

This trauma needs to be addressed because it is shutting down all attempts to complete healing and without healing, it becomes difficult for communities to end hunger.

At the Hunger Project, we start with women as the entry point to community transformation. When you mobilize women, you can mobilize a whole nation.

However, majority of the women in Lakang are not well. All through the civil war, they experienced unimaginable forms of violence such as rape, torture, slavery, mental torture of captivity and loss of loved ones, loss of identity etc.

A woman stands with a baby resting on her shoulder. She is smiling

Ajok Ketty is one of those mothers we interacted with, showing us her amnesty card, she narrated her abduction by the rebels when she was just 12.

Forced to marry a rebel leader, Ketty was finally rescued after more than 10 years in captivity and returned to Lakang with her 3 children.

Despite the resentment and isolation Ketty faced on her return for having had children with the rebels, she managed to get into another relationship and had 2 other children. But just like fate would have it, she says her new husband was arrested by the wildlife authorities for poaching and has not been heard of in the last 4 years.

Ketty is struggling to find answers to many things, she does not have access to land that is crucial for her family’s survival. Access to health facilities, education, clean and safe water are all still in a distant dream for her.  She still faces nightmares relating to her abduction.

Tomorrow, March 27, about seven months after our last visit, we are back in Lakang sub-county to launch the start of our transformational journey of growth and reawakening. The Hunger Project comes with a wealth of experience in community transformation having been at it for more than 20 years in Uganda.

However, unlike other districts, we know that our approach in Lakang is going to be different. This is because, the challenges in Lakang, are not similar to those in Mpigi, Iganga, Kenshunga, Wakiso or any of those places we have been.

The epicenter in Lakang will be that space that facilitates the healing of body, mind and spirit for women like Ketty. We believe that Ketty and all those women in Lakang who suffer silently will be able to utilize this epicenter to get healing and hence unlock their growth potential.

The [Government of Uganda’s] Parish Development Model is a great opportunity that we intend to harness as we embark on this journey of mindset change. The mindset change pillar of the Parish Model resonates well with our transformational model of Vision, Commitment and Action.

The other pillar in this journey of healing is leadership. Already the community of Lakang and district leadership have provided the land where the epicenter will be set.

This is a testimony that the community has an active leadership that is aware. We see this facility transforming into a peace centre that will eventually unlock real peace and development for the community of Lakang sub-county.

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Images: Women from Amuru Epicenter, Uganda, 2024; Ketty with one of her children, Uganda, 2023 © The Hunger Project