Youth-led community building in Lira, Uganda
In the beginning...

In the beginning...

Fr. Emmanuel Katongole is a native Ugandan and a professor at Duke University. In his book The Sacrifice of Africa: A political theology of Africa (Eerdmans, 2011), he describes Uganda as having two beginnings. He also describes the work of Angelina Atyam and our specific struggle in detail.


Like many African stories, ours started a long, long time ago.


Our first "in the beginning" story starts with the Uganda founded by John Speke, a British explorer whose exploration of the Nile river in the 1860s launched the era of Uganda being a British protectorate. In this story, we are cast as a nation that existed for the pleasure of others. We were to give our lives, our riches, and our sense of self-worth to a people who taught us that we were not as good as they were. This is not a life-giving story, and it is still with us.


The second "in the beginning story" is more hopeful. It starts about the same time, in the 1870s. Christian missionaries came to Uganda in the 1870s, about ten years after John Speke "discovered" the Nile. (Ugandans showed it to him.) Today Uganda is 85% Christian, 12% Muslim, and 3% traditional or non-Christian. In faith stories, we are beloved children.


Even though we are a non-religious organization, we embrace our beneficiaries' and our staff members' faiths and beliefs so long as they help make our community more peaceful and heal people's wounds. Faith communities are the basis of our civil society given governmental instability for more than two decades. Not attending to the way things actually get done in our area of the world in faith communities would be a serious misreading of the reality of Northern Ugandan culture. It would also mean that we are less effective as faith communities are the most direct route to education, health, and reconciliation.


Missionaries are still celebrated today all over Uganda for their commitment to health, education, and faith, often at a high cost to themselves. Fr. Katongole writes about how a new imagination can be, and has been, provided from stories of faith that show we are beloved and invited into a new story of healing. He also laments the number of people of faith who do not transform society, but mirror society's brokenness.


These two stories are critical to understanding our culture and problems today. Ugandans choose which stories we want to live into: one where we are victims, or one where we are beloved.


Our story

After Uganda ceased being a British protectorate, a cruel man, Idi Amin Dada, came to power and persecuted many, including those in the Lango subregion where Lira is located. When the dictator left, civil wars ensued. From these wars, a group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) emerged. U.S. President Barack Obama described the LRA in May 2010 when he signed the Northern Uganda Recovery Act:


"The Lord’s Resistance Army preys on civilians – killing, raping, and mutilating the people of central Africa; stealing and brutalizing their children; and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.  Its leadership, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, has no agenda and no purpose other than its own survival.  It fills its ranks of fighters with the young boys and girls it abducts.  By any measure, its actions are an affront to human dignity. Of the millions affected by the violence, each had an individual story and voice that we must not forget.  In northern Uganda, we recall Angelina Atyam’s 14-year old daughter, whom the LRA kidnapped in 1996 and held captive for nearly eight years -- one of 139 girls abducted that day from a boarding school."


A group of people in 1996, in response to the LRA kidnappings of girls from a boarding school, joined to form the Concerned Parents Association to advocate for the unconditional release of all children. Several members later formed, in 2001, the Concerned Children and Youth Association. One of the members, Angelina Atyam, advocated a radical way of approaching terrorists who used our friends as human shields. She advocated forgiveness while demanding the unconditional release of all children. Motivated by her understanding of her faith, she mobilized others of all faiths and none to advocate in this peaceful manner. For this effort, Atyam was recognized in 1998 by the United Nations with its Human Rights Award.


The LRA is currently operating outside of Uganda, in DR-Congo and S. Sudan. We empathize for those children currently being kidnapped and tortured.


At present the children and youth of Lira have lived through the years of the LRA terrorism and the displacement camps. Many are living by themselves or with elderly guardians in the bush and jungle without protection from malaria or snakes. Many are orphaned and live in vulnerable conditions with diseases such as HIV/AIDS. As such, even our young friends who have grave diseases live in mud huts; they wake up before the sun rises to gather firewood and to collect greens; they have one or two sets of clothes and a pair of flip flops. They do not have medical care if they get sick. They walk long distaces to overcrowded schools for their education. Life is beyond difficult for our friends at the margins, especially those in our community with disabilities and no access to hearing aids or glasses.


We also acknowledge that war may return, and with them elements of our past. We do not wish it, but we have lived in this brutal environment before and have excellent local resources to live in such brutal conditions.


And yet we refuse to be defined by what we do not have and our past. We have hope, because we have seen glimpses of hope in our own lives and those of our friends.


We seek to live into a hopeful future and we will walk into it together. That is the only way to get there: we must act and believe that every child and youth is my brother and sister.


And it is into this story you are invited. Learn how we are learning to build ridiculously resilent communities, to encourage each other, and to live lives defined by abundance even in the middle of life's most difficult situations.




CCYA visiting disabled partners.
Orphaned children in solidarity with a disabled friend.