Northern Uganda is in the news these days. There is a whole series in the Washington Post about former LRA abductees returning home. And then there's a PBS series on the same topic.
While I think it's great that people around the world will learn more about former LRA soldiers in Northern Uganda, what about everyone else in the region?
According to research from the Survey of War Affected Youth (SWAY), at least 66,000 youth between the ages of 14 and 30 were at one point abducted. That's a lot. But there's a lot of people in Northern Uganda - about two million - and that means about 3 percent of people were abducted.
Former abductees certainly should have their stories told, but I personally think part of what makes it hardest for them to return is the fact that NGOs and journalists are primary interested in these stories when really, everyone in the region suffered.
This BBC special feature from 2007 shows how in one Internally Displaced Persons camp, every person, in every hut, whether or not they were abducted, was affected directly through the death of a relative or neighbor and through the harsh conditions of camp living.
Most articles like this Washington Post story seem to focus on the difficult of re-integration of abductees, but here are some direct quotes from a SWAY report:
• Relatively few (3 percent of males and 7 percent of females) report any current problems of acceptance by their families. Communities appear to have come to accept the majority of former abductees. Less than 10 percent of males and females report still having some problem with neighbors or community members.
• Such acceptance was not immediate, however. For instance, 39 percent of females reported that they were called names by their community when they returned, 35 percent said they felt the community was afraid of them, and 5 percent report that they own family was physically aggressive with them. Current reports by females of such experiences were dramatically lower, however—7 percent for insults, 1 percent for community fear, and 0.4 percent reporting family aggression.
• Women and girls who returned from the LRA with children were most likely to report problems with their families and communities upon return, although the vast majority now say they are accepted into their families. An important minority of these young women do seem to have more persistent problems with family and community members than other female returnees, however. For instance, 14 percent of these females report that their families sometimes say hurtful things to them—far more than that reported by other long-term abductees. The reasons for such challenges seem to vary from case to case, however, suggesting that targeted conflict resolution or mediation may be the most appropriate intervention.
I've done a lot of reporting about Northern Uganda, and more recently did photos for one magazine feature about a former abductee which will be published in a women's magazine next month. I have concerns generally about women's magazines, but an assignment is an assignment and I accepted it.
Too often, editors on the other side of the world decide what should be reported here and my options are to accept the assignment or not accept it - not to dictate the kind of content published. And if I don't accept the assignment, someone else will.
While working on this story, I found everyone in the community treated the woman and her daughter very well. Until, that is, I started taking loads and loads of photos of the two of them alone. When I was taking photos of everyone in the community, no problem, when it was just the woman and her daughter, the taunts began.
People in the community thought that maybe the other journalist and I had given this woman and her daughter presents, money, or help with school fees. And I think it was this attention, and this suspicion, that led to the biggest problems for this woman and her daughter.
So, I took pictures of all the kids playing together as much as I could, and then did what I needed to do for the magazine feature. Here's a photo that won't be published in the magazine, but one I really like, of a bunch of the kids in the area playing together.
I'd love to see mainstream media stories about how communities are accepting former abductees back into the fold. Or how a lot of the problems former abductees have are exacerbated by attention to individual stories when everyone has suffered.
But, I'm not going to hold my breath.