Culture & Religion
September Thu 24, 2009
Agnes Ochitti is 25 years old, a lawyer and working with AVSI in Uganda. When she was 14 years old, she was kidnapped by the rebels, and now the lovely Uma Turman is bringing her story to the cinema with a beautiful new film in production, Girl Soldier, an independent movie produced by Caspian Pictures, in which the actress takes on the role of Sister Rachel, Agnes’ teacher and the protagonist of an adventure of another world.
In 1998, Agnes, while a student at St. Mary's College of Aboke in northern Uganda, was kidnapped with 139 other classmates, all aged between 13 and 16 years, by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). With great courage, Sister Rachele Fassera, an Italian Comboni missionary and schoolteacher, followed the rebels into the bush begging for their release. The result was that 109 girls were released, while another 30, including Agnes who was then 14 years, were detained. "That night," says Sister Rachel, "a hundred rebels rushed the school. We hoped that the iron doors and bars on the windows were sufficient: they weren’t." When the sister became aware of the abduction, she followed the rebels. Sister Rachel addressed their leader. "He told me that I would recover my girls. But not all of them: thirty were still being held. I knelt down before him: `Let them go and keep me,’ I pleaded. He refused.”
Agnes stayed in the bush for months. A boy taught her to endure the blows in silence and play the role of a soldier. She was forced to kill and to do obscene acts under the threat of weapons. "We were ordered to take big sticks and beat to death a girl of my own age. We had to do it,” Agnes recalled, “otherwise we would have been killed." To be trained as a soldier meant going to place the mines, taking part in looting, and killing her companions in misfortune who dared to try to flee. Or to be given in marriage to the commanders of the rebels. The murder of her friend is just one of many episodes of cruelty suffered by Agnes during the months of captivity.
But in the middle of a battle Agnes suddenly felt that her legs would not support her anymore. "I had no desire to run. That was the moment ... I felt that life had no meaning." In the same instant, Agnes thought of the faces of her mother and father and the pain that would consume them on the news of her death. The vivid image transformed despair into the decision and she prepared to flee. Agnes hears in the camp about the rebels who were making plans for a trip to Sudan. She is to be sent to a guerrilla leader to become his wife. The next day, while the rebels seek coverage from a government helicopter, Agnes sneaks away from the group and manages to escape. "On my return, my parents told me they wanted me just as before, and even more,” Agnes said. “Even at school, the nuns, teachers, my friends, everyone wanted me, and with their help I began gradually to recover."
Today Agnes considers her faith in God as the main source of her strength. As long as there are children held captive by the LRA in northern Uganda, a small piece of Agnes’ heart stays there with them. Agnes is determined to be a voice in defense of her people and to achieve this goal she chose to study law, supported by some European friends. During the holidays, Agnes has always worked with AVSI in Uganda, dedicating her efforts to building peace and improving children's rights.
In 2002, Agnes Ochitti attended the U.N. World Summit for Children in New York, the first global UN meeting dedicated to children, in which the same children were invited to bring their difficult witness. In 2006, she participated in an international seminar at the European Parliament, again with AVSI, on child soldiers and humanitarian aid. Her voice was the most vibrant and moving.
"It was a shattering experience that changed me as a woman, as a religious, as a missionary. The greatest sorrow of my life I've lived through was that day when I had to leave in the hands of the rebels thirty girls begging for help.” Sister Rachel stops, taking a long pause to stifle the emotion with difficulty. "I beg for forgiveness because only when we were directly affected did we understand the terrible tragedy that happens to children abducted in Uganda. Only then did we decide to stop it in every place.” But these are wounds that do not heal themselves.
"Our presence in Uganda dates back to 1984,” says Alberto Piatti, Secretary General of AVSI. “When we had to take care of child soldiers, that is, children who were the perpetrators of unprecedented violence, there was initially a feeling of a powerlessness to prevail. The task was seemingly impossible, but we could not hold back. The situation required an enormous need that we could not share. People asked for it. The children asked for it. You could not stay in northern Uganda and not engage in practice with these kids. We mobilized financial resources, knowledge and expertise. Learning from other experiences, we have involved experts and created partnerships with donors and international agencies, and we have searched the reality of this need for an answer that was effective. It required the reintegration into normal life of children who have suffered and used violence against family members and other people of their community."
Piatti continued: "This hard work has taught us that all financial and technical resources put into the field are necessary but not sufficient. The key point is to return to these kids the opportunity to recover their humanity which was wounded but not destroyed. This sharing every day with the kids and their horrific stories forced us to speak and practice the great word introduced in history by Christianity: forgiveness."
You too can support AVSI in Northern Uganda.
Being a man in northern Uganda, despite the emergency, is not only a humanitarian problem. It is the great challenge that motivates and summarizes the efforts of the Foundation AVSI, Italian NGOs present without interruption since 1984 in northern Uganda. In regions Acholi, Lango and Teso North, 90% of the population has lived for the past 20 years in IDP camps due to a civil war that abducted children to enroll them by force in the ranks of his army, destroying almost all the villages and cultivated fields, brutal killing and maiming anyone who opposed his will, flattening everything. Today, over 1,600,000 people who have lived in IDP camps, which lack even the basic necessities for survival, are tentatively returning home to their villages. AVSI is always beside them, supporting them with educational programs and activities that encourage the return to normal life, helping communities to rebuild schools and homes. But above all, promoting the consolidation of the human person.
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