Network of Young People Against War
Grace Akallo is a former girl soldier from Northern Uganda and co-author of Girl Soldier: A story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children. She recently received a Masters degree in International Development and Social Change from Clark University and serves as a spokesperson for children in Northern Uganda who are affected by war. Ms. Akallo also plans to start a foundation called Gift of Grace to help create educational opportunities for war affected children. She resides in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
When Akallo was 15 years old, she was abducted by rebels and forced to serve as a child soldier by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). At the time, her country was at war, and she had been attending St. Mary’s College, a convent run by Italian nuns in Aboke, northern Uganda. During the day, she and the other children enjoyed the safety and security the school provided. But each day’s end brought impending danger as she, along with thousands of other children in Uganda, left their havens to walk to town centers where they would sleep. These “night commuters” traveled under the mask of darkness to avoid being kidnapped by rebels.
Life as a soldier
Life as Akallo knew it took an abrupt turn one night in October of 1996: the government soldiers who stood guard at her school dormitories at night didn’t show. It was that night that the rebels attacked, capturing her and 138 other girls. Sister Rachelle Fassera, one of the nuns who ran the school, followed the abductors and begged for the girls’ release. The rebels freed 109 of them, keeping Akallo and 29 others. They were warned that if any one girl escaped, the other 29 would die. The rebels weren’t afraid to follow through with their warnings, she asserted. Akallo herself witnessed the murders of two children who tried to flee.
The abducted girls were moved to southern Sudan, where rebels lived in bases protected by allies of the Sudanese government. There, they were trained to assemble, disassemble, clean and use guns. The LRA and Sudanese government soldiers used them as slave labor, and they were forced to serve as “wives” to senior LRA commanders. They were brainwashed, beaten and forced to abduct and kill others.
After enduring seven long months of captivity, Akallo managed to escape during an attack on an LRA outpost by Ugandan soldiers. She spent days eating leaves and hiding in the bush. She and eight others found a group of villagers who cared for them and connected them with the Ugandan army. They led her home.
Akallo returned to St. Mary’s to finish secondary school. She attended Uganda Christian University, and eventually transferred to Gordon College near Boston, where she studied communications.
Once in the United States, Akallo became involved with Amnesty International. Her story was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, in the Washington Post and on CNN. In June of 2007, she co-authored a book with Faith J. H. McDonnell titled “Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children.” Akallo admits that she didn’t readily agree to collaborate on the book, however, she says, “I wrote it purposely because I wanted the situation to be known and stopped. That’s what was driving me.”
Akallo routinely travels to Washington and to the United Nations to speak on behalf of World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization that has counseled, rehabilitated and reconciled more than 15,000 formerly abducted child soldiers with their families and communities. She schedules personal meetings with lawmakers and gives speeches to upwards of 600 people at a time, urging them to do what they can to stop the war in northern Uganda in which more than 30,000 children have been abducted, held in captivity and forced to fight in the LRA.
Akallo has testified twice on Capitol Hill. She presses members of Congress, the Administration, and international leaders to use their political influence to compel the Government of Sudan to stop supporting the LRA. She encourages U.S. leaders to mobilize the international community to put global pressure on combatants to protect children and end the conflict. She also asks that the government provide more resources and humanitarian assistance to help those people suffering because of the conflict.
Akallo says she is met with agreement (about the severity and importance of the child soldier issue) and sympathy following her speaking engagements. Agreement is nice, but she knows action is what is needed to end the war.
Published in Clarknews, Winter 2009. Story by Angela Bazydlo