Uganda: Moving back home
25 February 2011

Constructing the roof for a new hut near Kitgum, northern Uganda. (Stella Ngumuta/JRS)
“With the new hut I rediscovered my resilience and I regained hope, it has transformed my life.”
Kitgum, 25 February 2011 – Paul* is 45 years old and lives in Kitgum District, northern Uganda. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of people who were displaced into camps while the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) terrorised Uganda’s north for more than twenty years. 

In early 2002, Paul was abducted by the rebels, beaten and forced to carry looted goods. They also threatened to torture and kill him. 

He was later released and immediately sought refuge in one of the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. The persistent violence did not allow him to return to his village. 

Life in the camp was hard. IDPs had to rely on food rations which hardly ever met their needs. Many people died of illnesses because there was no sufficient access to medical care. 

Paul developed an illness which could not be diagnosed properly. He became weaker and weaker and had increasing problems moving his legs. He was confined to his hut and whenever the rebels attacked the camp he could not flee and remained behind, exposed to their atrocities.

When he fell ill his wife abandoned him and his three children. He was neglected by the community because they perceived him as a burden. 

“I had no option but to accept what happened and to move on with my life,” Paul says. “Everything seemed so unfair, nobody cared for me and life was hell,” he adds.

Forced to go back home

In 2010, the Ugandan government declared the war over and encouraged people to move back home. Although hardly any support was offered people started reclaiming their land and returned home. The most vulnerable, however, remained behind and by June 2010 Paul found himself and his three children abandoned in the camp. 

The roof of the hut he lived in was leaking whenever it rained. Whenever the rain was heavy, he feared it would collapse. To make things worse, the district government issued a directive that uninhabited and dilapidated huts should be demolished. 

This forced him to eventually leave the camp and go back to his village where he shared a makeshift hut with his 65-year-old mother who, until today, looks after him and cooks for him. His children went to live with their mother who is now married to another man and lives in a nearby village.

Back in the village, Paul faced huge challenges. His makeshift hut only had a grass thatched roof and at night he felt cold. The village lies isolated, in the bush and there is no access to water. Food was a problem and always difficult to get since he could not move and his mother was old. Occasionally a good Samaritan would help them. 

A new perspective

In 2010 a group of JRS trained community volunteers identified Paul as one of the five most vulnerable and in need of help in his community. They built a little house for him that now protects him from cold and rain. 

“I am very happy, I have been blessed with a new hut,” Paul says. “I am planning to bring my three children back home and I want to start farming so that we have something to eat and some money,” he adds. 

“With the new hut I rediscovered my resilience and I regained hope, it has transformed my life,” Paul says. 

* not his real name