For five years, Francine* was held captive by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Once infamous for their widespread atrocities in Uganda, the LRA is now scattered among the border regions of South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the DRC. Since 2008, an estimated 7,600 people have been abducted by the LRA in these three countries alone – many are young people.**
After coming back from the bush I had a lot of problems. The community didn’t like me. Sometimes I used to go to the bush and cry. There was nobody to help me. I started school, but the other students used to call me ‘LRA’ and even the teachers were against me.
During this time, Francine heard on the radio that our partner organisation Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission of the Anglican Church (CDJPR), was gathering the names of LRA returnees in the region:
I heard on the radio that this organisation was helping those that returned from the bush. I heard that these people could really help me.
CDJPR helped connect Francine with the Friends of Matondo (CFAM), an organisation that runs meetings and workshops for young LRA returnees. Between September and December 2017, CFAM worked with 22 LRA returnees, including Francine, to help them readjust to life outside of captivity. This support includes a mixture of counselling, training on conflict resolution and community development work, as well as helping them to learn new skills. Francine explains:
They started to teach me how to sow, how to do tailoring. They taught me how I could adapt from being in the bush to living at home. They gave me some good advice.
These new skills are now enabling Francine to not only support herself, but also provide an opportunity to interact with other people in her community, which is slowly helping to change their perceptions towards her:
After I started to do some good work, people from the community started to give me their clothes and asked me to sow them. CFAM keep on visiting me, they encourage me and give me advice on reintegration.
We are beginning to see a positive transformation in the lives of these young returnees who have joined our group activities. The training allows them to get to know other young people. They talk and perform community tasks together. The young returnees become more and more kind in their behaviour.