One year ago this month, a group of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters released 12 women and children, handing them over to one of our local partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The LRA group also passed along a message that they would release more captives if the 12 women and children were well cared for. We asked for your support to help us care for the released women and children, rapidly broadcast “Come Home” radio messages targeting this LRA group, and equip local communities to safely receive LRA escapees. One year later, we are thrilled to share with you the impact of your support.
Let’s recap: On June 8, 2016, a Congolese man was traveling between the towns of Niangara and Dungu in northeastern DRC. The man is actually a member of SAIPED, one of Invisible Children’s long time community partners. While on the road, he was confronted by two LRA fighters who took him into the bush to meet with their commander.
Once the man was brought to the LRA camp, the commander of the group questioned him for several minutes before eventually telling him:
“I am giving you a mission to take care of these 12 people. Seven children and five women. You will take them to town* and make sure they are well welcomed by the community. You have to consider them like your own children and your wives.”
The commander also said that his LRA group would be listening to the local FM radio station, which has been supported by Invisible Children since 2011, and if they received confirmation that the women and children were well cared for, they would release more captives. The LRA group then released the man, together with the 12 women and children.
Thanks to the generosity and quick action of our donors, our staff and local partners in DRC were able to immediately activate efforts to provide care for the released women and children and to broadcast FM radio messages encouraging the LRA group to release more captives.
We helped facilitate the homecomings of all 12 released women and children.
The group of released captives included women who had been abducted and forced to be ‘wives’ to LRA combatants and their children who were born and raised in LRA captivity. Once freed, it was time to track down their families and help them all travel home.
Thanks to your support, our staff and community partners in DRC, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Uganda made sure that every woman and child made it safely home, and that their communities were well prepared to welcome them. Today, all 12 are with their families, including one Ugandan woman named Agnes, who was held in captivity for several years.
We broadcast targeted ‘Come Home’ FM radio messages encouraging the LRA group to release more captives.
We asked for your support to create and broadcast ‘Come Home’ FM radio messages specifically targeting this LRA group, with news that the 12 women and children were alive and well. Without skipping a beat, you stepped up and raised $5000 in less than one week, enabling our DRC team to rapidly create radio messages and immediately broadcast them with the help of a local FM radio station supported by Invisible Children. Those messages have been incredibly impactful.
In the last year, not only has this LRA group released at least seven additional women and children from captivity, some Ugandan fighters within the group found the courage to escape. One of those fighters is a man named Bosco.
Bosco was abducted and forced to join the LRA in 2006 while working in a field with his father in northern Uganda. When the commander of his LRA group released the twelve captives last June, Bosco sent two of his own children with that group. Three months later, encouraged by the ‘Come Home’ messages your support made possible, Bosco released another of his children and the child’s mother. Finally, in January of this year, Bosco bravely escaped the LRA with another woman and her child. In April, he returned home to his family in northern Uganda after more than 10 years in LRA captivity.
We continue to equip local communities to safely help LRA escapees.
To prepare for the possible release of more captives from this LRA group, we worked closely with the SAIPED team to ensure that communities in the area were trained with the tools and information they would need to help LRA escapees receive the immediate care they need and safely return home. Through an innovative mobile cinema-based workshop, we’re able to help communities affected by LRA violence understand that the LRA is largely made up of individuals abducted and forced to fight and that, by helping those who want to escape, they can play a central role in ending LRA violence.
Through these workshops, community leaders also receive training on basic trauma healing tools and instruction on how to help any LRA escapees get to the proper authorities who are able to help them get home. We also provide these communities with “Welcome Kits” containing a few basic items, like clothing and a mattress, which LRA returnees need in their first few days of freedom.
To all of you who consistently step up when needs arise and who sustain our work with your monthly gifts: Thank you. Because of you, we are able to respond quickly in situations just like this one to save lives and reunite families. With your support, we will continue to bring more captives home, support families as they heal from trauma, and ensure vulnerable communities have the safety from violence that they deserve.