Akallo Grace from Uganda was studying at a school in northern Uganda when her troubles began. This is her story:
They came at midnight. Their torch fires shone brightly through our bedroom windows. There was loud banging of rifles against the door. The terrorists came inside. Some were only 14, the same age as me.
They tied us up, all 139 of us, and pushed us out into the cold night. Was this really happening to me? It was very dark, the stars and moon were hidden behind the clouds. Itwas as though the darkness was a picture of what was to come. That night we left our freedom behind us, as the terrorists led us through muddy banana plantations. In the morning we saw one of our teachers. She had followed us, by tracking our footprints until she found us. When the guards saw her coming, they said, "You will not leave here, we will kill you or hurt you."
The teacher walked with us all day and pleaded with the terrorist leader to set us free. At last he freed 109 of the girls. I was one of the 30 who had to stay.
Sore feet and hunger
That night we were together in a tiny round hut with nothing to eat. Most of us were only wearing our thin night clothes. Our feet had sores on them as we lost our shoes in the mud. None of us slept all night. For a whole month, we were with the terrorists in North Uganda. They looted, killed and took more children. Then they ordered some of us to march north into Sudan. The sores on the bottom of my feet were so bad, I wrapped them in banana leaves. There was no food or water for us and I felt very ill.
At last we reached a training camp. There we were given to the leaders as child wives. The leaders said, "These girls should forget about going back to Uganda. They must be trained to fight." They gave us rifles and told us to use them. "Hunger will teach you to shoot," they said.
They were right. We raided villages for food and water. Our 'husbands' gave us nothing. There was a long drought. We ate lizards, rats, wild leaves and even soil. We had to walk three miles from the camp to fetch water, digging in the sand with our fingers. Then we waited many hours for water to come to the surface. Many of the group were so ill, they died on the way to the water hole.
Seven months after my capture, I was a 'walking skeleton' with rotting feet. Twice I tried to shoot myself, but a fellow captive took the gun away from me just in time. Once I fainted from thirst and the guards buried me, thinking I was dead. I had to dig myself out of the grave. Then, one day, the Ugandan army attacked the training camp. There was a long battle, but I survived, unhurt. The other survivors ran away and I was left alone. I just wanted to go home. But it was 300 miles away. I had to travel by myself. After a long and dangerous journey I reached home and safety at last. I had been a captive for seven months.
I was free, but my sufferings were not ended. When I returned to my school, other students said things that hurt me, and my stepmother spoke against me too. I was treated as an outcast because of all that had happened to me. I did not find peace and love until I went to university, where not many people knew what I had been through. Yet, I know, in all this suffering, God was with me. I could not have survived without his help. He took me through this time of trouble to a place where I am loved and cared for. I know I am not an outcast, but someone whom God loves very much.