On a sunny mid morning in 2000, Betty Ajok and three other unsuspecting little innocent young girls aged just 10 years, walked a distance from their Anaka rural home, 50 kilometers from Gulu town in northern Uganda in search of firewood
In a split of a second as they gathered firewood in the forest, as was their routine, they found themselves surrounded with armed mean looking and blood thirsty men who ordered them to follow them.
“We had to follow the orders without arguments as we all knew the consequences of such moves,” she says with her eyes facing down.
The abductees trekked for the next three days in the thick and cold jungle carrying heavy loads of looted property further to the north, the stronghold of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) that has terrorized the area for the past 24 years turning the once vibrant agricultural region into a huge camp of suffering and destitution.
It was at this point that she remembers what she has heard her parents and neighbours discussing about the rebels operations that include fast attacks and running to hide in northern thick forests that looked like they have never been tempered with since the creation of man.
As they moved further north, they joined other rebels with another group of abductees, men and children forcefully drafted.
Once they reached one of the rebels’ make shift camps in the bushy part of northern Uganda, they were declared wives. Like animals in a market place the LRA commanders paired them in jungle matrimony to blood thirsty rebel soldiers.
“I was hardly eleven years of age and I absolutely knew nothing about having sex. But I got a shock of my life when a man forcefully pounced on me like an animal subjecting me to severe pain in my private part,” she says with tears rolling down her chin.
“The man I was given was about 30 years. Any girl, who dared resist was shot dead as everybody watched,” she remembers with her voice turning hoarse and choked in anger.
As her eyes rolled left and right with tears on the edges and looking disturbed, Ajok vowed never to forget the incident.
“After sometime I had to resign to this painful dehumanizing experience and what followed was my first child,” she says in a low voice.
Along the way, as they moved northern from one camp to the other, she got a first hand experience of human tragedy in the hands of bloodletting rebels that have incessantly tormented her ever since then.
“From the day of the abduction I was to stay in the bush for the next three years during which time I saw rebels killing innocent people, more so abducted government soldiers and other officials,” she adds.
According to Ajok, any person who grew weak while in the bush was shot dead and left to rot there or the body be consumed by wild animals as some of the areas they passed through had human bones, some fresh and some rusty - strewn all over.
“It was clear that several people had been shot dead and just left to rot away. You reach such a place and get bones and skulls spread all over sending shivers down your spine,” she states.
Barefoot, Ajok and many other captives, waded through places full of thorns, long - dew filled grass and swampy regions.
“We walked barefoot and if you got exhausted and could not proceed any more you were shot dead or when you are lucky they tie you on a tree leaving you at the mercy of God,” she narrates.
Ajok reveals that during her ordeal many girls got pregnant and gave birth in the bush where there were no hospitals and midwives.
“After birth you heal naturally and quite often the so called husbands mercilessly sleep with you even before you healed and there was no room for otherwise. Sometimes immediately after giving births you were forced to be on the route with the rest of abductees. The abductors were cruel and this was the rule here,” Ajok says in broken words.
Ajok reveals that on a number of occasions they were forced to kill children in the bush too. The soldiers could just order them to strangle children and they killed many.
“On orders from the commanders, we were forced to arrange the dead children in rows after killing them and told to walk on the innocent lifeless bodies with some oozing fresh blood,” she adds.
Her release came about when she got impregnated for the second time while in the bush and was told to go home since the rebels did not like mothers with children because they were making their movements difficult when the war intensified.
“Even though I was elated for being freed, I was not happy inwardly. I looked myself in the mirror and felt dejected having been abused sexually – a casual relationship that bore two children at unwanted time,’ the 17 years old Ajok says in pains.
After their release with others, through good luck they met government soldiers. The soldiers took them to a camp called Aler, a short distance from Gulu town.
Their arrival was immediately circulated to their - would be – still - surviving - relatives in other camps by the camp officials. Her elder sister got the news and went for her immediately.
“I have seen people die of hunger, diseases, some tortured and brutally murdered and children strangled to death,” Ajok describes her ordeal.
Ajok’s father was shot dead before she was abducted by the rebel soldiers while the mother died when a landmine blew up a pubic vehicle they were traveling in.
With no formal education she now find life extremely difficult with three children; one born after she returned.
“Without parents, no job, three children to care for and out of the World Food Programme (WFP) list for food rations, life is turning unbearable,” she laments.
She is however trying a bit of farming and is currently growing sorghum, potatoes, cassava and maize within the outskirts of the camp.
The camp has many IDPs suffering from atrocities of war that has led to several cases of mental illnesses, prostitution, respiratory tract infections and water borne diseases like cough, malaria and diarrhea.
She appeals to LRA Commander Joseph Kony and President Yoweri Museveni to speed up the peace process to help save lives as well as the infrastructure in the region.
“Many innocent people have died with some maimed for life in a war they do not understand its origin,” she wonders allowed.
Today she lives in a one roomed - mud walled - grass thatched house that belongs to her elder sister at Anaka Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) center directly opposite Anaka district hospital.
The congested camp is a visible site for the effects of what a senseless war can do to the innocent people.
With most people lacking what to do during the day, some idling as others play ajua, the site resembles a display market for a neglected lot of human beings.
An AWC Features