People FOR Peace ~ Ricky Richard Anywar
In an in depth interview with FOR, Ricky Richard Anywar shared his experience, strength and hope as a former child soldier who turned incomprehensible pain and hardships into healing for an entire community. The following is the introduction to the interview that will be a feature in the next issue of Fellowship magazine:
Gun shots sent shockwaves through the blue skies around Pader District in Northern Uganda. “We heard the gun shots. I got scared. I knew that today we were going to be abducted,” said Ricky Richard Anywar. Instead of running, his parents stood their ground while rebels captured Ricky and his older brother Onume Patrick. The older boys’ arms were roped at the elbows and tied behind their backs while rebels rounded up Ricky’s mother, father, two sisters, and young brother, locked them in a grass-thatched hut, and set it ablaze. The Anywar family was burned alive. “They were crying for help. It was the toughest moment I’ve seen in my life.”
In 1988, Ricky, age 14, and his 16 year old brother were orphaned, abducted and forced into slavery to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spokesperson for God, the LRA was fighting to overthrow Uganda’s secular government with an army of stolen children. The war in northern Uganda lasted for over two decades (1986 - 2006) during which time more than 35,000 boys and girls were dragged from their homes, schools, and villages, and marched to rebel hideouts deep in the bush. There they were initiated into the Army’s cult-like culture through religious indoctrination, horrific abuse, and forced participation in brutal violence. The boys were made to kill or be killed. The girls were used as sex slaves.
Kony and his rebels established power by creating widespread fear through targeting civilians. Fathers, mothers and infants were murdered, dismembered by machetes or burned to “rid the land of evil spirits.” The LRA’s campaign of terror resulted in more than 100,000 deaths, thousands of maimed and wounded, and one and a half million people being flushed from their homes and forced to live in squalid internally displaced-persons’ (IDP) camps. Because the child soldiers were forced to perpetrate the atrocities, the civilian population learned to fear and distrust the very children that were kidnapped from them.
Rarely did anyone escape from the LRA; and, if a child managed to flee, there was nowhere to run. The rebels would kill them if found, the government would imprison or kill them for war crimes, and civilians would not harbor refugees due to fear. But in 1990, 2 1/2 years after being dragged into the bush, Ricky Richard Anywar managed to escape, was abducted again, and, miraculously, escaped again, this time to freedom. After returning a boy to a family in northern Uganda, Ricky traveled on foot to safety in Kampala, the capital, in southern Uganda where a woman gave him a job and helped him to return to school. He went on to attend University and got a good job with the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports. However, Ricky was haunted by the plight of the child soldiers that remained in the north. He knew that he needed to help them to help himself. So, with the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and courage that he used to endure his years in the bush and escape from the rebels, Ricky returned to the war zone to aid former child soldiers like himself.
At first, his efforts involved traveling alone, at great risk, to bring clothing to a few orphans; and, in time, Ricky found funding and, by 1999, Friends of Orphans (FRO) was born. FRO’s mission is to “contribute to the empowerment, rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers, abductees, child mothers, orphans and to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS”. The success of the organization rests on the fact that the leader and much of the staff are former child soldiers which makes it possible for them to fully understand and, thus, gain the trust of traumatized children. In a little more than a decade, FRO has managed to impact the lives of thousands of children and their communities. The organization pays school fees, runs vocational and income generating programs, conducts peer counseling and individual therapy, carries out peace building projects, organizes cultural and sports programs, and administers HIV/AIDS support programs.
Ricky’s current focus is securing the start-up capital to build a community radio station that will be based in Pader Town and managed by FRO. Northern Uganda is remotely located with poor road networks, the rural areas have no electricity, no television, and most of the people are illiterate. The only source of information is the radio, and, at present, the only radio station is commercial. The community radio station will promote peace and dignity in an area devastated after 21 years of war by airing and solving problems such as informing of disease outbreaks, giving voice to women and youth, creating a communication pathway between NGOs and local governments, holding public officials accountable, and supporting education and human rights programs. Ricky envisions the radio station as promoting dialogue, debate and change that will foster sustainable and equitable development, and increase the ability of the poor to raise their incomes through access to productive means.
For more information about Ricky and Friends of Orphans Uganda please visit the FRO website.