In 2009 I spent quite some time with the students and former child soldiers at Friends of Orphans Rehabilitation Centre in Pader, Northern Uganda. I was also lucky to re-unite with many of the youth when I returned to Northern Uganda earlier this year!

The short video clip below is from my first trip, and was taken on my second day at Friends of Orphans, just as I was getting to know the young women and children, who had in their recent pasts served as child soldiers in Joseph Kony‘s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).

The video is classic… Enjoy!

Ebony at Friends of Orphans from Ebony Butler on Vimeo.

Although my method is not a common technique used in child soldier rehabilitation and re-integration efforts (in fact I think it may have never been used anywhere in the world before this!) I do know for a fact that it works – and if not kissing, at least being friendly; funny; open and a little bit ‘Ebonesque’!

The students at FRO Uganda opened up to us immediately after the little kiss with Moses, and I do believe this helped in building the strong relationships we had with the students. Getting everyone laughing and happy was a great building block that lead to many of the former abductees, both boys and girls, wanting to become friends and engage in conversation, which then lead to them confiding in and trusting us. This also resulted in the beginning of new and long-lasting friendships, which have stood the test of time…

I was recently in Northern Uganda (Odek) where I spent some time with the victims of Nodding Disease, and their parents / guardians or only surviving family members. It was a period, and experience in my life I will always hold close to my heart, and could never forget. The faces of these children still haunt me to this day. I hope through my work with children around the world sick or not, that I have been able to make them smile, cheer them up, make them giggle and laugh through their suffering… But this was a different story altogether. The suffering, the pain, the anguish and isolation of these poor, sick and neglected people, is a sad story that has its roots buried far beyond the first outbreak of Nodding Disease.

This young boy has been severely disfigured by Nodding Disease. He is 12 years old yet looks about 6, he cannot speak and he is the last surviving son in his family. 4 died of Nodding Disease and one was abducted by the LRA and has never returned. His father does not know if he is dead or alive. April, 2012 www.atlanticstarproductions.com

The sad truth is that the government of Uganda does not really care about the poor young Acholi children in the North who are suffering, then dying of this shocking Nodding disease. When I was in Uganda a couple of months ago, there was so much local media showing President Museveni out in health clinics and setting up facilities for nodding disease victims and so forth. That was while I was in the same country. Actually! During my time in Northern Uganda; the President just flew in for many media opportunities. Speaking about these issues, I would say I have spent more time in Northern Uganda than the President himself. I would have spent more time on Acholi soil, speaking Acholi (a little, but a little more than President Museveni), working with them; learning; sharing; caring; teaching; drinking; eating; laughing; living; crying with them… and establishing life-long friends with them! Oh, my heart goes out to my dear Acholi friends from the North!

So all this news about the children being looked after and in hospital is a total lie. Because I have witnessed firsthand the suffering and the devastation of these young and older families who have children with the disease, I spent time with them, I listened to their stories and I saw with my own eyes what was going on. It is a total travesty by the Government of Uganda. There may be some health clinics set up for a few certain children, but in Odek, Josph Kony’s hometown, situated between Gulu and Pader (closer to Pader), hashundreds and hundreds of children with Nodding Disease, WITHOUT ANY AID AT ALL.

A young nodding disease victim in Odek northern Uganda who has ran into fire 8 times and had her fingers burnt & cut off, without treatment! Please explain Mr. President? April 2012

There have been a lot of funds that were supposed to be allocated to Nodding Disease, but they didn’t make it, if some did, it would surely be under 10% of what was allocated. I did not witness one clinic for the disease in all of Uganda, (Northern Uganda) yet I witnessed, on what was the most horrific and heartbreaking period of my 2 month trip there, so many young girls and boys, either tied to trees by their parent (usually only one guardian exists) to prevent them from hurting themselves as Nodding Disease victims often lose control of their behaviour and run towards fire and water, resulting in devastating and too often deadly consequences. I also interviewed the guardians, parents or remaining relatives of the young Nodding Disease victims.

Interviewing the parent of a young Nodding Disease victim in North Uganda, April 2012

The interviews offered interesting perspectives not so often discussed or dissected in corporate or commercial media. Insights given often pointed to the World Food Programme‘s (WFP) food and the possibility that it was contaminated, either by accident or as some would argue, was a deliberate move by the Ugandan Government. It seems almost clear that the children who are affected by Nodding Disease, who are generally between the ages of 6 and 15 years, were infected during the time of the massive forced encampment of the Acholi into overcrowded, unprotected, disease ridden and violence prone Internally Displacement Camps (IDP camps), a.k.a ‘death camps’ or ‘modern day concentration camps’. It was around this period when all food was supplied to the encamped Acholi by the World Food Programme, and the disease started to become apparent. (2003 I believe).

I will post a few more images here of other children I met with Nodding Disease, that were not treated at all, despite the severity of their conditions. Many have since died but these figures are not shown in official statistics, in fact, Odek was rarely mentioned in the media as an area that had suffered greatly from it. It’s a very sad story and one that demands greater attention from Uganda, and also, the rest of the world.

The boy I am pictured with below had the early symptoms of the mysterious & often fatal Nodding Disease.Let’s pray that his situation has not worsened and that he is receiving at least some medical care.

A young boy in Northern Uganda with early signs of Nodding Disease, April 2012

*If you haven’t yet heard of ‘Nodding Disease’, that means it needs serious attention from the international community, so scream and shout, tell people, and do your bit! Help spread the message that Nodding Disease victims (who are all children) need our help, now!

Another young victim of the horrific, and largely unknown disease… April 2012

Please follow me on twitter at the following profiles: @madvsbad @atlanticstar233 @ebony_atlanta and @bikes4lifeorg

A crazy place, a crazy experience. Here’s what happened to me:

I was nearly stabbed in the foot by a massive stick that went straight through my shoe;

We ran over and killed a dog on the Kampala Gulu Road on our way north;

I thought I was going to be raped by a boda boda driver in Gulu;

I was close to being arrested by the Ugandan Police for filming at a ceremony where the President of Uganda was present at;

I almost died in a car accident in Pader, where we rolled 3 times after hitting a massive pot hole &

I was almost attacked after being chased by a huge baboon near Karuma Falls….

Let’s hope my last week in Uganda is a bit on the safer side (but somehow I doubt it will be!)

For more regular updates please follow me on facebook: www.facebook.com/childtroopers

PEACE!

On the 28th of February our crew is heading back to Uganda, and this time we are also hoping to make it to Eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)- closer to current LRA rebel activity.

We will be spending 5 weeks on the continent, completing the last stages of filming for our feature documentary Child Troopers, which has now been 3 years in the making. This time we are returning with a new all Australian team, together with Bikes 4 Life volunteers from Melbourne, as well as our local crew on the ground in Uganda. We will also be distributing bicycles to remote war-affected communities (see: www.bikes4life.com.au).

One of the our latest additions to the team is one of Australia’s finest cinematographers, Mr Marcus Dineen. Marcus is flying in from Sweden to work with us and shoot some beautiful footage for our film. Very excited to have Marcus working on Child Troopers with us!

Further to that excitement, I am very pleased to announce that Sabina Paisa, associate producer of Child Troopers, will also be traveling with us to Africa at the end of the month! It was a last-minute decision, made possible by one of latest EP’s, Michael Schmidt. We cannot thank Michael enough for being such a great support and huge part of this production!

Keep checking this site as we will post updates as soon as we are on the ground and have access to the internet! But basically, while away we will be working with kids and community groups in the capital city (Kampala), traveling out to slums on the outskirts of the city and getting some projects assessed for future partnerships with Bikes 4 Life… then we will be heading north towards South Sudan, to a place called Pader where we will be working with former child soldiers and victims of the war. Further to that, while in the north, we will be distributing bicycles to people in remote villages and camps, setting up a bike education and vocational training centre at Friends of Orphans in Pader and filming the Bikes  4 Life journey and Child Troopers documentary at the same time!

Our 5 week East and Central African expedition is going to be quite an adventure so make sure you follow us online, via Facebook or Twitter and see what we get up to!

Wish us luck on our journey…. We look forward to sharing our experience with you  and thank you for your support!

If you are in Melbourne, please come down to our farewell event, UGANDA BOUND at the Half Moon in Church Street Brighton on Sunday the 26th of February.

See: www.bikes4life.com.au for more info!

Child Troopers - The Art of Linda Zacks

atanga.pader.ugandaWar affected communities in Northern Uganda are experiencing an outbreak of the mysterious ‘nodding disease‘ or ‘nodding syndrome’.

Thousands of children have been affected across the north of Uganda, in Pader, Kitgum and Gulu. In Pader alone 66 children have died from the disease.

Nodding Disease is said to have links with River Blindness, a condition that affects some 18 million people, mainly in Africa. The disease first emerged in Sudan in the 1980’s and is also believed to be associated with epilepsy. The disease affects children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 15.

MP’s across the region are calling on the government to respond to this fatal illness, with threats to ferry thousands of children to the Mulago hospital for special treatment.