Footnotes from the British Underground

This blog began as venue for my stories as I traveled in Africa. 18 months later, I return to it as I travel to study as a Marshall Scholar in the United Kingdom. My hope is that this blog can be a conduit for you - my family, friends and secret/strange admirers - to track my movements, see a photo or two and get a glimpse of my days in the UK. Apologies once again to Dostoevsky for the blog's name...

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Location: Bradford, United Kingdom

After graduating from Notre Dame, I'm off to England for graduate study. I'll be studying for a M.A. in International Politics and Security Studies. When not studying, I'm continuing to coordinate Uganda-CAN's efforts to end the 20-year war in northern Uganda!

6.3.05

To the North and Back - Oh, the Horror

I am not sure I am really ready to write about this, but I will give it a try. Yesterday, I traveled north to Lira district in the north of Uganda, a district that has been affected deeply by the Northern conflict. Thanks to a contact at the Red Cross, I was able to tour the camps for internally displaced peoples in Lira town. Due to the 18-year old conflict in Uganda, more than 1.6 million people are displaced. The number killed, abducted, raped, kidnapped and psychologically traumatized is unknown, but easily in the hundreds of thousands.

The camps were by far the most horrifying site I have ever experience in my life. Never have I seen conditions so unhuman. In the first of two camps I visited, people were living around an abandoned factory. Some live in one-room mud huts with broken straw roofs (one household to a hut, even if the household includes 13 people). In these huts, people sleep on the dirt ground, even on nights when the rain soaks through their broken roofs. The majority of people, however, sleep outside on the ground in the dirt, or on the hardwood floors of the factory. I saw families living in and around dirty, rusty machines; children playing around in the soot, mud, putting trash in their mouths. In these camps, most people are starving. Most have had family members abducted or killed by the Lord's Resistance Army. Some children who were kidnapped and abducted by the LRA have returned to their families in the camp, presenting huge psychological challenges. Everyone in the camp faces massive psychological trauma. The families would all like to return to their homes, but if they do, they know they will be killed and their children abducted by the LRA.

The pain of these people is immense, yet their needs remain basic: jerrycans, blankets, tarps for roofes, food, basic medicine, pit latrines, clean water, educational services for their children. Yet, these basic needs remain unmet. The people I spoke with have no hope that peace will come or the government will suddenly start caring about their plight. Their only hope, according to them, is the international community, but they are not holding their breaths. They are a hopeless, forgotten people, too aware that they may not even make it until tomorrow.

As I listened to the leaders of the camp and walked through them, I wanted to cry, to vomit, to break down. When I finally got back to my hotel, I fell on my bed, having trouble breathing or controlling my thoughts. It was traumatizing just to walk through these camps and see that there are people in the world actually living in such conditions on the brink of mass death. It is hard for me even now to put the images and my thoughts into words. In the coming days, I will post some of my interviews at the camp on the blog, along with putting the conflict into a context for it truly is a complex, dark affair with many criminal parties, a long history and most of all: countless victims.

If after reading this you want to help, I recommend donating to the Red Cross specifically for their relief in the Northern Disaster. Yet more importantly, contact your local representatives (emails, letters, phone calls) to tell them to look into what the United States (or whatever country to hail from) can do for peace in northern Uganda.

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