The Aboke Girls
6 Mar 2013 | Blog | Women | Uganda | Long-term Development
On 9 October 1996, the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted 139 teenage girls from St Mary’s School Aboke in Northern Uganda. Janet Oyee from Caritas Lira was among the first to be released but the LRA retained 30 girls who became soldiers and sex slaves. Janet tells her story.
I grew up with four siblings in a grass thatch house in the Lira district, northern Uganda. Our father was a secondary school chemistry teacher but in November 1986, while he was travelling to the national examination 80km away, he was shot dead by cattle rustlers.
After he died, his relatives claimed our house; so our mother was left on her own with no property and five children to care for. Determined that we were to finish our education, Mum engaged in micro gardening and other agricultural activities; the little money she earnt sustained our family.
I can say, from the bottom of my heart, that I love helping children, the sick, the elderly and the underprivileged people in my local communities."
In 1993, she fell sick. Mum’s sister is a nun, so she and Father Alberto, an Italian Catholic priest, often visited and prayed with us. Father Alberto also helped to pay for our school fees, but as I was taking care of my sick mum and siblings, my education was affected. Later that same year, Mum passed away.
At first, we struggled on alone and my brother and I, being the eldest, had to leave school to care for the others. But one thing that was unique about us was that we often prayed to God.
I was soon able to re-attend primary school, and in 1995 I was fortunate to attend St Mary’s School Aboke, a secondary school for girls. However one early October morning, everything changed.
The Lord’s Resistance Army
It was Independence Day (9 October 1996) and the whole country was in jubilation.
However, at St Mary’s College, there were rumours that rebels were nearby. During the day, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had exchanged gunfire with government troops; they had also abducted, killed and looted the communities they crossed, with many people fleeing to take refuge.
Suddenly at around 1:00am, the school was awoken by bright lights and shouting. The compound was flooded with rebels; they broke into the dormitories, and using much brutality, forced 139 female students out.
We were tied with ropes, led out of the college, and given heavy loads to carry. One girl was raped and left behind; this raping was contrary to the instructions of Joseph Kony, head of the rebel army. He expected all the girls to reach him first so he could make the necessary initiation ceremonies and choose his women, before leaving the rest to his officers.
Like my fellow captives, I was beaten and given heavy loads to carry. Over two nights, we encountered government ambushes, and risked being hit by stray bullets – from the ground and from helicopter guns. Barefoot, hungry, thirsty and exhausted, we were led through thick forests, bushes and swamps by fierce child rebel soldiers.
But I was one of the lucky ones. Responding with great courage by tracking the rebels into the night, two nights later, Deputy Headmistress, Sister Rachele Fasssera negotiated with the blood thirsty operatives. And incredibly, she succeeded in securing the release of all but 30 of the students. Life was never the same again – for any of us.
This sad event and the bravery of Sister Rachele brought world attention to the situation in northern Uganda. The school closed, but in 1997 a military barracks was built nearby, allowing the school to reopen its doors and me to continue studying. I graduated in 2000 and in 2005, completed a social sciences degree (economics and gender studies).
The Aboke Girls
For 18 years, the LRA – which relies on abduction and terror to fill its ranks – terrorised communities in Northern Uganda, and more recently in southern Sudan, Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
A great deal of information with regards to the LRA and the situation in northern Uganda is available from numerous news services, however I am also aware that a number of people who have visited our partners in the Lira Diocese have been affected by the tragic story of the ‘Aboke Girls’, as they have become known.
On 12 March 2009, after being held captive for 13 years, the last of the Aboke Girls was rescued by the Ugandan Army following skirmishes with the LRA in the DRC.
Life with Caritas
In 2005, I started working with Caritas Lira. My work with the organisation is vital; it has empowered me in many ways and helped many others too. Thanks to Caritas Australia, I am in a position to further my studies and have enrolled in a Master of Development Economics; a Master of Arts Development and Microfinance; and a Master of Development Studies.
These postgraduate studies will allow me to continue transforming the lives of vulnerable communities once affected by rebel activities. And I can say, from the bottom of my heart, that I love helping children, the sick, the elderly and the underprivileged people in my local communities.
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