Dear Supporters of Musicians for World Harmony,
We are finally back from Lira in northern Uganda where we had the most amazing experience working with victims of war.
Lira is more enjoyable than any small town I have ever been to in Uganda. It is so peaceful that you forget that there was war here recently. People cherish the peace, but know that is controlled by politics, politicians and war lords like Joseph Kony.
We came back so inspired to make a difference in the lives of the young people we met; those who are working hard to help each other cope with the stress and pain they feel from the killings. Most of them struggle with the fact that their families will not take them back as they are afraid of them.
The stories these young, former child soldiers tell are worse than any horror movie I have ever seen. Imagine someone telling you that sometimes when they were really thirsty, they kill a little child to get their blood. But then the blood makes them thirsty. This is just one of the stories that we were told and I will never forget the look on the young man's face as he told me this.
Joseph Kony, the rebel leader, made sure that these children will not be welcomed back; he does this by forcing them to kill people in the villages they came from. So, when they try to come back, they come back to families that remember what was done to other family members. One villager was forced to watch as his sister was put in the ground and buried alive by rebels. Because of this pain, when his son escaped from the rebels and tried to return home, he would have nothing to do with him. In fact, he has become an alcoholic and calls his son a “killer” and “rebel” when he gets drunk. This son feels really lost and does not know where to go. If he dared go back to the rebels, he would be killed in a minute. In situations like this, many of these boys and girls kill themselves.
Some of them are completely ruined by their experiences and really cannot be expected to simply rejoin their families. For example, a nine year old boy came back and had a fight with his sister. He followed his sister into the family food garden and killed her. He came back and said without any emotion, “I just killed her.”
The war in Northern Uganda is over -- we hear this reported in the news and from the non-governmental organizations that were advocating an end to it. The war has now moved into the homes. These children and young adults have come back with wounds that are not easy to heal. Their families need healing as well before they can be expected to welcome back their children that were forced to kill some of their own family members.
Some of them killed their childhood friends. Some boast to have killed over seventy people. The sad truth for these young people is that the more people one has killed, the more respect they were given in the forest amongst the rebels. Back in their own towns they are known as killers. They are teased in school and they find it very difficult to make friends. They are called names like “Kony's children” after the rebel leader. One former child soldier said to me, “Every day you hear something about Syria. Why is it that no one talks about our war here in our homes in Uganda? Why doesn’t anyone talk about the up-to-15,000 kids that are still out there and trying to come home? Why does no one reach out and bring them home?”
When talking with the former child soldiers it becomes apparent that before they escaped, most of them did not know that the war was over. We also talked about how musicians could write songs that might help. These songs can be played on the radio and share the message that they are still loved and can come home and be with their loving families. Some families do still love their children and they have welcomed them back. Not surprisingly, these children have done better than the ones that were rejected by their families.
Young girls that were abducted are also in a very difficult position. When they escape, they are not welcomed home. Many of them have children and some of them are pregnant. Their parents want nothing to do with the children they bring home with them. They are babies of killers and that means they may be killers themselves. When these girls give birth, no one wants their babies. These babies are born with no sense of identity, are vulnerable and often damaged themselves.
In most African families, one follows their father's family tree and takes their father's or grandfather's name. These children do not even know who their fathers are because their mothers were raped. The most feared children are the ones that were born in captivity. Unlike those who were kidnapped when they were eight, nine, or ten years-old, these children do not know anything about love and family.
When Karen Wacks, (our director of Education and Mental Health Programs, also a
Professor and Clinical Training Coordinator in the Music Therapy Department at Berklee College of Music in Boston) and I arrived in Lira, we were told of one very difficult case of a young man who just returned from the bush and everyone was afraid of him. His name is Michael and when we were introduced to him, we could feel his pain just by looking at him. His story kept changing and he had not made any friends. He was so closed off that no one really knew what he was all about.
While in Lira, we had the opportunity to conduct a few music therapy sessions with a group of recently returned former child soldiers, including Michael. The changes in him were immediate. He opened up more and was able to speak to the director of the ARDI (Acoke Rural Development Initiative) Center that is responsible for him and tell him about his dilemma. His father wants nothing to do with him and he cannot go back to rejoin the rebels. Once a child soldier escapes or is caught escaping, they are killed immediately. I saw Michael open up by the second time we visited their new center. He followed along during the sessions and did everything that Professor Karen asked him to do. The exercises were simple but very effective. Michael actually began to laugh.
Our next step is to train local musicians to use music therapeutically and clinically to continue the work that we have started here. A young man like Michael, and many others in similar situations, need therapy on a regular basis if Musicians for World Harmony is going to make a difference. This will be focus.
Please check out this video link below. It will show you the spirit of Lira. I look forward to coming back here with many therapists to work with these injured souls. These children need the healing that music brings. We were able to donate musical instruments - guitars and ukuleles – and we are going to collect more to bring on our next visit here. Imagine what guitar lessons would do for these former child soldiers and victims of war. These instruments will help them sing again. Our goal is to help them put the gun down and pick up a musical instrument instead.