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Responding to Kony 2012: AVSI looks at years of education and recovery in Uganda

altAs the news around the world is still buzzing about the video "Kony 2012", we would like to provide another perspective, of what we see as the real drama in Uganda today: the ongoing recovery and life of a people who has suffered great conflict, but is now free. And so we look through the eyes of our AVSI collaborators in Uganda, who have been working, alongside many other noble organizations in Uganda, since 2006 to help former child soldiers recover from the horrific experience and enter again into society. For the 6 years AVSI has been committed to these children, along with the families and communities to which they are tied, giving priority to accompanying and educating them over 'seeking for justice', for as Uganda Country Representative John Makoha says "From my point of view, Kony is an example of the fact that if we do not work to support the humanity of these people, in the future we can expect the arrival of a new Kony."

From the personal experience of our staff and colalborators, we share with you:

Her moving speech was presented during an international seminar hosted by AVSI at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Filled with stories regarding the overall recovery of society in Northern Uganda, the book portrays the constructive engagement of AVSI in the daily context without forgetting that behind data and statistics, there are real people.

UGANDA/ John (AVSI): This is our response to Joseph Kony

For by Pietro Vernizzi

"Since 2006, Uganda has been experiencing a period of relative peace. Today the most pressing problem is not capturing Joseph Kony, but helping the 2 million former refugees to return to their homes to lead a normal life, get a decent salary and to provide an education for their children. Without someone to take care of these people, even if the ferocious “Lord of War” is brought to justice, a new Kony would soon take his place in Uganda". This is the comment by John Makoha, the director of AVSI Uganda, on the video "Kony 2012" on YouTube, which has already been seen by 70 million users worldwide. It is a half-hour movie, made by the non-profit organization "Invisible Children", of which the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, has spoken in glowing terms: “America will continue to fight against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)", Kony’s military that forces child soldiers to fight, armed with Kalashnikovs.

Mr. Makoha, what do you think of the way in which the video "Kony 2012" tells of the plight of the child soldiers?
For the many people in Uganda who have experienced Kony, a movie is not enough. This particular film hopes for the capture of Kony, and many of my countrymen also wish to see justice done. However, the real emergency is the many people who, after living in war for over 26 years, have seen a return to relative peace since 2006. Many of them have left the refugee camps, where up to 2 million people had previously been held, and are now starting to settle into real homes. For these people, the most important thing is to make a livelihood. AVSI has supported more than a thousand families to help them return to their homes, trying to encourage the creation of small businesses to enable them to survive and to face a series of problems and diseases that had not previously been seen. Among these is the "disease of the north", which is afflicting the northern parts of the country.

For the majority of Ugandans these problems are more pressing than the capture of Kony. What has changed in Uganda since 2006?
The main problem today is the financial crisis that is affecting the rest of the world. Many Ugandans have also left the refugee camps, where they had found an answer to their various needs, and have now returned to their homes. These places are destitute, often far from schools and from any medical services. So far there has been relative peace in the sense that there is no more war, but at the same time it is very difficult to live with dignity. Since 2006, from the time when the peace talks were held after which Kony left the northern part of Uganda (to settle in Sudan, ed), things have changed in the country. AVSI is committed to helping former child soldiers.

What were the steps taken by these children thanks to your support?

There were over 20 thousand children abducted, in addition to the many others involved in the conflict in different ways. Today however, many of them have returned to their daily life like other children, and they share the same needs: education; drinking water; means of livelihood; a source of income for their families. Thus, AVSI is supporting communities to build their homes and have access to drinking water. We have helped local governments to properly organize the health system, but at the same time there is a need to create sources of income. The families of former refugees must find a way to earn something to meet their many needs, and that is what AVSI focuses on. From my point of view, Kony is an example of the fact that if we do not work to support the humanity of these people, in the future we can expect the arrival of a new Kony. It is therefore much more important to take care of people because this is how you can create an environment where peace is sustainable.

What might the psychological consequences of the video "Kony 2012" be for former child soldiers?
These children have suffered a series of traumas. Many of them have left the war behind and have spent nights in the woods, with forced marches, fleeing from those who wanted to kill them, and that drama will always be in their minds. This is why it is very important to support them, accompany them and give them an education. I can understand that it is right and important to capture Kony, but even more important is the fact that, in Northern Uganda, there are 2 million former refugees who are trying to return to their normal lives. In particular, there is a whole generation of kids who have lived their childhood in the war, and that today would like to attend school and lead the typical life of any normal child. It is therefore necessary to do much more for them than for other children.

What was your experience of the past 26 years of war?
What especially struck me were the child commuters who had to traverse long distances to go to school because at that time there were few places where it was safe to spend the night. Among these were the mission hospitals, where children went to sleep every night and to get something to eat. Moreover, the places where services were available were limited, because many non-profit organizations could not venture into many parts of northern Uganda, for fear that their personnel would be kidnapped by rebels. It was, therefore, a restless period, without peace, during which people could not go outside, or feel safe in their homes, and so were forced to flee elsewhere.