Uganda, 14 October 2010: Counsellor for child soldiers, featured in documentary film 'Children of War', discusses her work
'Children of War' screened at UN
NEW YORK, USA, 14 October 2010 – Just recently, the United Nations office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict hosted the world premiere of the award-winning documentary ‘Children of War.’
The film, which was documented over a period of three years and produced by Bryan Single, follows the journey of several children who were abducted and forced to fight by rebels in northern Uganda and then return from captivity to begin new lives.
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When Jane Ekayu, a trauma counsellor featured in the documentary, first heard the news of the child soldiers returning to their families, she knew she had to help. During more than 20 years of civil war and strife, an estimated 35,000 Ugandan children were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and trained to kill on behalf of the rebels.
Ms. Ekayu decided to get involved in the rehabilitation of child soldiers after hearing stories of their return on a radio programme called ‘Karibu,’ which means ‘welcome’ in Swahili. She approached the Rachele Rehabilitation Centre, a private, non-governmental organization established in Lira, Uganda, and asked what she could do.
“These children come back highly traumatized,” said Ms. Ekayu. “I wanted to be there when [they] are returning. I wanted these children to pass through my hands before they go back to their parents, before they go back to their communities.”
In 2004, she became a counsellor at the centre, helping the children describe their experiences with the rebels in one-on-one and group counselling sessions.
Trust and support
Ms. Ekayu said that when children once abducted by armed groups first arrived at the centre, they were divided into one of several risk categories, from low to high. The children in the low-risk category had spent some time in captivity, whereas the high-risk children may have been involved in the killing of dozens of people – perhaps even their own parents.
“It’s the responsibility of the counsellor to make the child know that it was not right for the rebels to abduct them,” said Ms. Ekayu. “I’m talking about a child who was abducted at the age of 5 or 6 years and has lived in captivity for the last 10 years. All they know is what the rebels have indoctrinated them into.
“These children don’t trust anybody. Especially adults,” Ekayu continued. “They were abducted by adults. They were subjected to torture by adults. So how can a child trust you? We have to build trust – that’s the first thing.”
The Rachele Rehabilitation Centre closed in 2006 after helping over 2,500 young people return to their families and communities. But Ms. Ekayu continues her work with similar organizations in Uganda. She also stays in touch with the children she met at the Rachele centre, and thinks often about the children she never had a chance to help.
There are still so many children who are not accounted for,” she said. “We want these children back home.”
More stories from Uganda
14 October 2010: UNICEF Radio speaks with Jane Ekayu, a counsellor to former child soldiers in Uganda, featured in the new documentary 'Children of War.'