In addition to Amin and Kony the area has been ravaged by disease: Ebola, Malaria, Cholera, AIDS, the list goes on. Many people here suffer from malnutrition due to the collapse of the farming system in this agricultural based economy. The education system has collapsed, families have disintegrated, businesses destroyed, infrastructure in dire need of repair after years of neglect and precious few resources to re-develop. Yet their faith remains strong - unbelievably so. They worship, praise and give thanks to God every chance they get - it is deeply humbling and Holy to be among these terrific people.
People have been leaving the IDP camps set up near Gulu to go back to their homes and to their property. Unfortunately, without any organization with the resettling, this has caused great strife amongst neighbors as territorial disputes are now erupting over their properties and the police station and courts are full of these cases presently. A surprising number of people still remain in the IDP camps as they have lived there for so long and they have built a community there and have chosen to remain. The conditions in these camps are difficult at best and much improvement in sanitation, health systems, education, housing and food are needed.
Many of the people resettling onto their lands find that their homes have been destroyed as the LRA burnt homes to the ground as they moved through the area. I saw many burned out homes and buildings through the Gulu area. Additionally, the people returning are often weak from hunger, or they are infirm or impoverished and they cannot rebuild their homes. Help is urgently needed here for homebuilding assistance and for an improvement in the quality of the housing in general. It is time for aid agencies like Habitat for Humanity to return to Gulu and to step up their commitment to this region which was one of the first areas Habitat built in when Millard started the organization. Gulu needs Habitat and other home building agencies in a big way now.
The agricultural industry has been decimated. When farmers are not able to farm for any extended period of time, crops die off, seeds die off, soil overgrows and farmers need to start from scratch. Livestock was essentially killed and eaten by the rebels throughout the region and stocks have been depleted. The farmers here urgently need, seeds, tools, appropriate farming machinery, restocking of their livestock and microfinance loans to start up their farms again. The lack of farming and the current drought conditions have caused food shortages throughout the area and governmental aid agencies are needed to supply food to the area until the farming industry can recover. Farmers need to visit here to learn how they can assist these farmers.
Education has been deeply impacted as the students and teachers have been under immense stress for a very long time. They value and try so hard at their academics yet the difficulties of life simply overwhelm their abilities at times. They work with such meager means it is astonishing to me that the students learn anything in their school environments. Yet - these amazingly dedicated teachers and administrators here continue to teach their kids day after day and few of them make it on to university. Schools need all kinds of supplies from paper and pens to books to sponsors for tuition payments. Educators need to visit here to see where they can assist. One headmaster I met with was ambushed by the LRA and shot up (took two bullets into his back) and had his left arm crushed in several places and left for dead. He spent six months in the hospital and then returned to work for precious little pay to continue to teach his kids. There are stories like that in every school here.
This is a beautiful region inhabited by beautiful people with gentle spirits who have been tormented over a long period of time. Healing and restoration will take time and a collected dedicated effort by those who are committed to bringing quality of life back to this region is needed. There are many shining bright stars here such as Chairman Mao, Watoto Church and Orphanage, Children's Village, Rev. John Ocholo, Rev. Otto Naptali, and Jared White at Invisible Children to name a few. More on them in a later report.