Richard Odongo is a 24 year old born and raised in a family of eight in Lalwa B village in Pajule sub county, Pader district. At first sight, Richard, a tall young man, looks like any other youth from the village; however, his behavior is a little different from that of most of his colleagues. He is described as anti-social, aggressive and is not integrated into the community or his family.
In a particular instance, Richard stole his sibling’s academic document because he felt belittled by his family for not having gone to school. When asked about its whereabouts on suspicion of his involvement, he hurled insults at his family and as the tension grew, he disappeared from home for two months leaving his mother helplessly worried.
Richard is not just a troublesome kid. His behavior goes back 16 years when he had an experience that changed his life completely.
“One evening when my parents were out in the gardens, the rebels attacked our village and took me and my uncle away,” he narrates. Only eight years old at the time, Richard was taken to the bush and forced to spend four years living with the LRA rebels as a child soldier.
Richard is one of the tens of thousands who were abducted by the LRA rebels in northern Uganda and continue to suffer the consequences. Though the guns have gone silent, trauma, aggression, suicidal thoughts and stigmatization are daily occurrences for these individuals and their communities.
With support from USAID SAFE, the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET)’s Trauma Healing for Post Conflict Peace and Reconciliation project reaches out to people such as Richard to address issues of post-conflict trauma and the need for psychosocial support, as well as post-conflict reconciliation.
Richard was identified and approached by the AYINET counselors who engaged and helped him heal from his traumatic experiences through series of counseling sessions.
During a recent visit to his home, Richard welcomed us with a big smile and sitting relaxed under a huge tree, he narrates his experience: “Before I met the counselors, I had differences with my parents, they would say I have a mental problem, but now they talk to me as their own child and a normal person.”
His mother, who used to worry a lot about her son’s wellbeing, agrees that the counseling changed the situation positively: “As a mother, I feel that the counseling from AYINET staff has brought peace at home and in Richard.”
Since the beginning of the counseling, Richard has demonstrated attempts to reconcile with himself, his family and his community. He has returned the documents he once stole, joined a community football team and enjoys a much better relationship with his parents and siblings.