Bila Pi Kuc: Creative Art-based Therapies for Reintegration
Approximately 29,000-38,000 children have participated in the conflict of Northern Uganda, and whilst abduction and forced recruitment has declined in the region since 2009, former child-combatants are still trickling in slowly. These individuals have lived in captivity for many years, only to return as adults without ever having experienced freedom or peaceful co-existence with communities. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are renowned for their large-scale recruitment and abduction of children who were forced to serve in their militia. Resultantly, the childhoods of thousands of girls and boys in Northern Uganda have been lost through their abduction, captivity, and fighting within this conflict, and their families and communities broken as a result. Many returnees still do not consider themselves free; they remain enslaved due to post-conflict struggles. The inadequate response by the government and international community has left many former abductees with little hope for a fruitful future, whilst also managing serious stigma and mental trauma.
Much of the existing literature about former child soldiers begins by drawing greatly on the atrocities committed by the LRA – with detailed descriptions of the suffering they subjected local populations to – whilst simultaneously attempting to highlight the plight for child abductees. Such dominant narratives become a hindrance when trying to provide assistance for former child soldiers, as their association with the LRA is the cause of much stigma and such literature perpetuates this, resulting in further disempowerment for many former child combatants. Consequently, these returnees get labelled as aggressive, angry, lazy, dangerous, and rebels which impacts their social, economic, and cultural rehabilitation as well as their emotional wellbeing. This project, therefore, will not focus on the atrocities of the LRA or former child soldiers (unless former abductees themselves wish to express them) as we do not deem this helpful for individual and community recovery, reintegration or healing. Instead, it is essential we provide a new narrative which is inclusive of the voices of former child soldiers in a way which humanizes them and their experiences, to allow for the deconstruction of many of the negative stereotypes about them.
This project will utilize the creative art-based therapies of drama, music, film, and dance as a tool for social healing and reintegration of ex-child combatants in war-affected Northern Uganda. The project will display the marginalized voices and experiences of formerly abducted child-combatants during their time in captivity and their lives post-conflict. Additionally, there will be an in-country community cultural festival bringing together 300+ people for a day of creative arts-based performances in December this year with the aim of facilitating dialogue on several issues related to child-soldiery that were not addressed during post-conflict peacebuilding and remain overlooked even today.