In early June, we received word that a small group of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters escaped in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the group were three Ugandan fighters, Sam, Stephen, and Bosco, who had all been among LRA ranks for at least 16 years.

Now, we are always excited when we get word of someone leaving the LRA but this escape was especially good news because of the incredible impact it has. Today, we estimate that there are fewer than 150 active fighters within the LRA, many of which are Ugandan. So, with so few among their ranks, every time a Ugandan LRA fighter defects, it represents a huge blow to the LRA’s ability to carry out violence, meaning that local communities become that much safer.

In the weeks following the news of their escape, our team in DRC and the U.S. worked with local communities and partners to arrange for Sam, Stephen, and Bosco to travel back home to Uganda, by way of our office in Dungu, DRC.


The three LRA escapees (Sam, Stephen, and Bosco) with our friend David Ocitti (second from the right) at the Invisible Children office in Dungu, DRC.

Just a few weeks ago, Bosco, Sam, and Stephen finally returned home to Uganda, with the help of our good friend David Ocitti, of Pathways to Peace. They were joined on the last leg of their journey by a journalist, Sally Hayden, who tweeted about the trip and the family reunion at the end. We highly recommend giving her thread a read (and get those tissues ready).

This week, the Washington Post published a story by Sally Hayden about this incredible journey, and how these former fighters found each other and made their decision to leave the LRA together. Again, it’s a read we don’t want you to miss, so we’ve included a few of our favorite snippets below. But really, we suggest you take ten minutes to give the whole thing a read.

From Sally Hayden and the Washington Post:

WaPo photo 1

Lord’s Resistance Army escapees Oryem Bosco, 28, Owong Sam, 26, and Stephen Okot, 32, meet Okot’s youngest brother for the first time. They were brought back to northern Uganda after 16 years in the Lord’s Resistance Army. (Sally Hayden)

Trained to kill and always fearing informers and punishment by his own comrades, Okot had long kept to himself, until by chance he started talking with Oryem Bosco, a short, shy man a few years younger, about their childhoods in northern Uganda. “I told him my ancestral place only to realize we came from the same district,” Okot said.

From that day, Okot and Bosco began sharing food. As they ate, they huddled together, contemplating the decade they had been away from their families, whispering about what they saw around them — the killing without mercy, the lack of education among the fighters, the bleakness of their future.

As they grew closer, they found a third confidant in Owong Sam, a charismatic man with a hearty laugh who was abducted at the age of 9.

“I began loving Sam. I began loving Bosco. They were people I could trust,” said Okot, sitting in a guarded reception center in Gulu, in northern Uganda, several months after the three finally escaped.

Together they made the long journey from Sudan, through the Central African Republic to the border with Congo on foot. Until last year, there would have been U.S. Special Forces helping them return to Uganda, but now it’s down to the work of local Ugandans, particularly David Ocitti, who runs an organization called Pathways to Peace.

In June, Ocitti traveled to Banda, in northeastern Congo, to greet the escapees and begin the slow process of finding their families and flying them back home.

Four weeks later, 16 years of separation ended when the three were finally reunited with their families in Gulu. Women ululated. Fathers and uncles rushed to lift the returnees into the air amid shouts of joy. “My dad’s gotten fatter,” Sam quipped, grinning from ear to ear.

WaPo photo 2

Oryem Bosco greets his family after 16 years apart, in the Child Protection Unit in Gulu, in northern Uganda. (Sally Hayden)

Bosco said he never thought their escape would work, and now that he is finally home, he is convinced that the scourge that robbed him of his childhood may one day truly end.

“Everything has a beginning and an end,” he said. “Nothing is impossible before God.”

WaPo photo 3

Owong Sam hugs his mother. Sam was kidnapped as a 9-year-old from his home in northern Uganda and forced to become a child soldier. (Sally Hayden)

All of us at Invisible Children feel incredibly grateful to have been a part of this story of freedom and reunion and to Sally Hayden for sharing thier incredible story. Thanks to their bravery, and the hard work of our staff, partners like David, and local community members, Sam, Bosco, and Stephen are finally home.

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