“We welcome people who have come out of the bush because they are our brothers and sisters. This woman needed assistance with her children and we were trained by Invisible Children to help them to come out of the bush and care for them. She is one of us.” –Emmanuel, Congolese Peace Committee President
Just a few weeks ago, Josephine* bravely escaped captivity in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) with her two young daughters and found herself in a small community in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Josephine knew no one in the community and no one there knew her. But despite that, local community leaders were prepared to support her on her journey home.
When Josephine and her daughters first arrived in the community, they had nothing except the clothes on their backs, a few pots and pans Josephine had taken with her when she escaped, and a few homemade bracelets given to them by nomadic cattle herders they had encountered while living among the LRA. Thankfully, the leader of the local Peace Committee, Emmanuel, was prepared to help her because an Invisible Children team had recently trained him and other members of his community how to support LRA escapees just like Josephine. Using an innovative Mobile Cinema film, created with our friends at Discover the Journey, we used the power of story to equip Emmanuel and his fellow community members with information and tools to help improve their community’s safety by supporting LRA escapees.
Within hours of their arrival, Emmanuel arranged for the local doctor and his family to become a host family to Josephine and her girls. While the doctor provided much needed care to Josephine’s youngest child, his wife, a local reporter, worked with Josephine to create ‘Come Home’ messages to broadcast over the radio and encourage others to escape captivity too. Meanwhile, Emmanuel and other members of an Invisible Children-supported Peace Committee alerted our team and local authorities to Josephine’s arrival and need for support to return home.
As soon as we heard about Josephine, we started searching for her family. Because she was abducted miles away from where she escaped, we used our Early Warning Radio Network to find her family. Then, we worked with our partners to arrange for a small plane to pick up Josephine and her daughters and bring them to our office in Dungu, DRC where we could provide them with additional care and support before reuniting them with their family.
When our team arrived to bring Josephine and her family to Dungu, it was clear that she and her host family had already formed a strong bond. As they boarded the plane, the doctor gave her extra medicine in case she couldn’t immediately see a doctor in Dungu, and his wife helped her carry the pots and pans. Before leaving, Josephine gave her host family one final round of hugs and thanks.
Like all LRA escapees, Josephine found herself far from home with almost nothing. She doubtlessly suffered trauma and extreme hardship as she was forcibly taken from her home, enslaved by LRA fighters, gave birth to two children in the bush, and finally risked escape. For her, and for every LRA escapee, a compassionate, community-based welcome was essential to a safe journey home to her family. That’s why, as we continue to encourage LRA captives to come home, we also invest in local communities, who are on the front lines of receiving and helping escapees. Leaders like Emmanuel and Josephine’s host family are incredible examples of how this kind of investment can make a safe homecoming a reality for hundreds still in captivity.
As Emmanuel put it: “We feel very hopeful for the future because we want this conflict to end and all our children to come home. We look forward to all our brothers and sisters coming out of the harsh life in the bush. We are ready to help them recover and find their families again.”
*Josephine’s name and baby’s face has been changed to protect their identities.
Programs, including the Early Warning Radio Network and Peace Committee trainings, described in this blog are made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this post are the sole responsibility of Invisible Children and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.