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Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow visits Ugandan children affected by conflict

'The future belongs to the young'

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1408/Hofer
During a round of visits to Ugandan communities prior to the start of the African Youth Forum, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow meets children at a traditional settlement in Kotid district, Uganda.

By Anne Lydia Sekandi and Roshan Khadivi

GULU and KOTIDO, Uganda, 16 July 2010 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow has made a round of visits to Uganda communities this week, in advance of her participation in the first-ever African Youth Forum, which begins tomorrow in Entebbe.

Ms. Farrow visited Gulu district in northern Uganda, where she met children affected by the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, and Kotido district in the country’s north-eastern Karamoja sub-region, where she met children affected by inter-ethnic raids.

Rebuilding communities and lives

In Gulu, Ms. Farrow witnessed a poignant drama, as children at Laroo Primary School depicted the brutal realities of the abductions that occurred at the height of the LRA conflict. The students acted out a skit showing how a normal domestic scene was disrupted by LRA rebels who abducted all four of one family’s children from their parents.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1411/Hofer
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow walks with children at Nampupum Primary School in Kotid, Uganda.

The happy twist to the tale was the return of the children, who managed to escape captivity. However, the re-united family then had to flee their home for safety – just as many traumatized families in Gulu had to do.

"Although peace has finally come in Gulu, it has not brought peace of mind to so many of the victims," said Ms. Farrow. "It will likely take a generation for people to rebuild their communities and their lives, and they will need continued help."

Laroo Primary School currently has 460 students, including 150 formerly abducted children. The UNICEF-supported school offers an academic and vocational training programme for children and young people affected by conflict as they try to resume normal lives.

12 years in captivity

One of those young people, Miriam (not her real name), now 23, spent 12 years in LRA captivity before returning home in April. She told Ms. Farrow about her abduction, her subsequent ‘marriage’ to an LRA commander at the age of 15, and how she endured three teenage pregnancies and a still birth in the bush without proper medical attention.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1410/Hofer
Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow meets with students at Laroo Primary School in Gulu district, northern Uganda, where some pupils were formerly abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group.

Miriam finally escaped from the LRA in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Ugandan troops handed her over to UN peacekeepers. They, in turn, flew Miriam back to Uganda with her two children – a three-year-old daughter and a six-month-old baby boy. She spent three weeks at the GUSCO Reception Centre, which is supported by UNICEF and Save the Children, and received counselling and rehabilitation before reuniting with her family.

“I got a very good support from my family” said Miriam, who has since returned to school and hopes to complete her primary education this year. 

Raids and sexual abuse

In Kotido, Ms. Farrow visited a Manyatta, or traditional Karamoja settlement, as well as the Nabumbum Primary School, where she heard the testimony of children who had narrowly survived death during ethnic raids on cattle kraals.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1409/Hofer
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow gives oral polio vaccine to a baby in Uganda.

“Children in Karamoja are often victims of raids, since they are trained to raid as soon as they are deemed to have become of age,” Kotido District Acting Chairperson Grace Oyuge said, referring to the cattle rustling that is part of a conflict among different ethnic groups in the sub-region.

“Boys are often wounded, while girls – some as young as 10 years – are sexually abused in the process,” she added.

A forum for young voices

At the African Youth Forum, Ms. Farrow will address young representatives from around the continent on the role of young people in Africa. Scheduled to take place a week before the 15th session of the African Union Summit, the Forum will provide an opportunity for 124 delegates, ranging in age from 16 to 29, to share their views on development issues.

The youth delegates will identify key strategic recommendations for an outcome document with a call for action from young Africans to their national leaders. Two delegates will be selected to present the call for action to the Heads of State and Government at the AU Summit.

"The future belongs to the young,” said Ms. Farrow. “It is important that they be thinking about what kind of world they want. The Forum is an opportunity for their voices to be heard.”



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