In the last decade, hundreds of individuals have escaped or been released from captivity in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Some have been women and children, released in large groups by LRA commanders. Many were held captive for a few days, forced to porter goods looted from their own homes. Hundreds were held captive for years, made to fight as soldiers or forced into marriages with LRA officers in camps hidden deep in the forest before finally seizing an opportunity to escape.
Each one of these homecomings not only reunites a former abductee with their family or community but also helps dismantle the LRA from within, reducing its capacity to abduct other civilians. That’s why, for the last seven years, our Invisible Children staff and partners in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have worked together to broadcast ‘Come Home’ radio messages into areas of known LRA activity to encourage those held captive by the LRA to find a way home. These messages have helped bring hundreds of LRA fighters out of the bush and back home.
We also work closely with communities who face LRA violence to ensure that they’re not only able to protect themselves from violence but are also prepared and equipped to welcome LRA returnees home as active participants in their reintegration. This is especially important because escape or release is really the beginning of what is often a long and difficult journey for former LRA captives to heal and rejoin their communities. This is especially true for one young man named Jean.*
About a year ago, in April of 2016, Jean was found severely wounded just outside a small, remote community in southeastern CAR, just north of the border with DRC. The community had recently been attacked by a group of LRA fighters. During the attack, Jean, who had been abducted five months earlier and forced to become an LRA fighter, was injured and later left behind when the rest of his group moved on.
Fortunately, Jean was quickly evacuated following his injury to the nearest hospital in the Central African city of Bria. There, he received care that saved his life, but his injuries left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down and in need of long-term care and support.
Many individuals who escape LRA captivity in CAR are transported to Obo, CAR. There, an Invisible Children supported Transit Center and a network of host homes provides them with care, trauma healing tools, and a place to stay while our team works to track down their families and coordinate their return home. However, Jean stayed in Bria for several months, too weak from his injury to travel while our team worked to get him back to DRC and arranged for him to have the care and support he would need when he finally got there.
We worked with our friend and partner Sister Angelique, in the Congolese town of Dungu to make sure that Jean would have everything he needed when he finally came home. For several years, we’ve worked with Sister Angelique to support a center where she provides care, education, and vocational training to women and children affected by LRA violence in DRC. As Jean was healing in Bria, we worked with Sister Angelique to build a place for him at the Center in Dungu and prepare for his medical needs.
Finally, in March we were able to arrange for Jean’s transportation back to DRC and to his new home with Sister Angelique. His journey to healing is not over but Jean continues to grow stronger each day as he re-adjusts to community life, equipped with the tools and care he needs to move forward toward a bright and hopeful future.
With your support, we’ll continue to ensure that every LRA captive makes it all the way home and that they and their communities are equipped to heal and protect their families from violence. Join us, by giving to programs that support LRA returnees and communities in central Africa affected by violence today.
*Jean’s name has been changed to protect his identity.