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…

It is with pleasure and great excitement that I announce Bikes 4 Life’s newest sponsor, Visa Global Logistics.

Visa Global came on board with Bikes 4 Life after their marketing manager, Joe Cetin, saw the segment on The Project on Channel 10 just a few weeks ago.

Visa Global Logistics

Australian owned company, Visa Global Logistics is now Bikes 4 Life’s official shipping sponsor, who will oversee the first shipment of bikes to Africa, scheduled to leave Melbourne on the 11th of January 2012.

In February, the Bikes 4 Life and Child Troopers crew will be setting up a Bikes 4 Life Workshop and Vocational Training Program in Uganda, at our partner organization and child soldier rehabilitation center, Friends of Orphans. The 40 foot shipping container donated by Ex-Pat Deli and decked out by ANL, will become the actual workshop in Pader, Northern Uganda at the Friends of Orphans site.

Our container packed and almost ready to go!!

The program is aimed at not only assisting in the rehabilitation and re-integration efforts at FRO, for the hundreds of young traumatized victims and former child soldiers of a brutal civil war, but it is also aimed at giving them an opportunity to learn practical and useful skills that can help in securing employment in the future. Furthermore, Bikes 4 Life aims to provide each person at the center with their own bicycle, so they can visit their families without walking for days, giving them the ability provide for their families when they return home to their villages after rehabilitation, allowing faster and easier access to food, water and access education & medical facilities, giving them a real chance at overcoming the traumas of their past and getting ahead in life- against all the odds.

Alfa and Christine off to visit their families with the bikes we sent them for Easter!

On behalf of the Bikes 4 Life Team and the Child Troopers Crew, thank you Visa Global – for making all of this possible and for helping us to help others….

Merry Christmas!

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...
President Obama - Image via Wikipedia

One year ago today, President Obama signed into law a bill that committed to put an end to the LRA’s brutal atrocities and abductions.

President Obama stated that: “[This] legislation crystallizes the commitment of the United States to help bring an end to the brutality and destruction that have been a hallmark of the LRA across several countries for two decades.”

Today, LRA attacks continue and activists are urging the President to robustly implement his LRA strategy (Resolve).

In Congo today, LRA atrocities are still occurring, on a near-daily basis. Resolve‘s on the ground partner, Fr. Benoit Kinalegu stated:

“Many of us believed that President Obama’s commitment to addressing the LRA threat would finally help stop our suffering. Yet one year later, we continue to live in fear as the LRA’s attacks have shown no signs of decreasing.”

Progress has been made, but that is not enough to end the suffering and to bring about justice. Confronting this injustice needs much more global support and commitment from international actors, but more so, from the people.

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Uganda: Post-war youth vocational training (Chris Blattman)

To increase employment and reduce poverty, government and NGOs commonly train youth as carpenters, tailors, mechanics, welders, cooks and other vocations. Evidence is thin, however, on the worth and effectiveness of such spending.

We are working with Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister and The World Bank to evaluate Uganda’s largest youth vocational training program. The evaluation will answer several key questions, including:

  • How does the program impact the lives of beneficiaries?
    • How many start up and sustain a business?
    • What is the impact on income, employment, assets, and savings?
    • What are the determinants of success (and failure) in vocations and entrepreneurship?
  • How do any economic gains spill over into other areas of life:
    • physical and psychological health;
    • risky behaviors;
    • social and political participation;
    • investments in children’s health and education; and
    • the transfer knowledge to neighbors and friends?

(more…)