Means: ‘love one another’ in Luo, one of the local languages of northern Uganda.

In April 2017, we launched the inaugural Wamare Institute, a two-week residential institute for 32 young women from conflict-affected areas in the north, north-east and West Nile sub-regions of Uganda. The Institute enhances and complements the limited existing local initiatives for those abducted and enslaved by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, with a focus on young women formerly abducted (female returnees).

The programme for the Institute was carefully planned to reflect the issues raised by female returnees and local service providers with whom we met during a series of consultations held between 2014 and 2016. See the programme of the Wamare Institute here.

The Institute included peer story-telling and body mapping sessions in support of the healing process for young women who have experienced extreme levels of trauma, violence and brutality. Workshops on parenting skills and primary health issues including sexual and reproductive health were complemented with sessions on ‘food as medicine’, drawing on the traditional use of herbs to treat common illnesses and ailments and to supplement nutritional needs.  Many of the young women we work with, and their children born as a result of their captivity with the LRA, have a variety of health issues following their time with the militia group and due to the impoverished conditions they lived in before, during and after being in the LRA camps. Some are also living with injuries due to gunshot wounds and a few have mobility issues as a result of the violence they experienced. Referrals to the limited number of services available which respond to these issues were provided at the Institute.

Daily yoga and meditation and devotion were integral to the healing and supportive environment created within the Institute.

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Consultations and Shaping the Methodology

Building on our earlier consultations with focus groups of female returnees in 2014 and 2015, in July and August 2016, the Women’s Initiatives held a series of meetings and consultations about the Institute and the needs of those formerly abducted with female returnees and local service providers in Gulu and Lira.

The objectives of these consultations were to: introduce the idea of the Institute to a wider range of organisations and illicit feedback on the concept; consult on the proposed programme and design of the Institute; invite their suggestions and support; deepen our knowledge and understanding of the specific challenges and priority issues for female returnees; assess the capacity of local service providers as potential resource people and trainers for the Institute; and develop a network of referrals for participants following the Institute.

The idea of the Institute was warmly received by local service providers who all noted the limited programmes available for returnees and the lack of specific programmes for young women formerly abducted by the LRA and others affected by the armed conflict. Local practitioners felt that the Institute would ‘fill an important gap in support of female returnees’.  Many of the service providers we met with will participate in the Institute as trainers and resource people.

We consulted with a number of young women abducted by the LRA particularly from the Acholi, Lango, and Teso sub-regions. Female returnees have formed several small, informal groups in response to the community and familial rejection many of them encountered upon their return from the LRA. These groups provide support for their members and all of the groups have initiated some kind of small-scale income generation activity to address the high levels of impoverishment faced by returnees, including their added responsibilities as parents to children born as a result of rape and sexual enslavement during their time with the LRA.

Four clear priorities emerged from the consultations with female returnees in relation to their most pressing needs. These were: livelihood and income generation projects to be able to survive and support themselves and their children; food security (access to land for planting crops and the ability to provide food for themselves); education for their children; their needs for support in their personal recovery and their desire to be reconciled with their families, clans and communities. These issues were universally shared by female returnees from different sub-regions and despite the varying amounts of time they may have been outside of the LRA and working towards reintegration with their communities.  Many also expressed their desire to receive training in parenting skills. Several relayed their awareness of lacking empathy for their children and their exhibition of angry and at times violent responses.

These priorities have been carefully considered within the design of the Institute and the follow-up components of this project.

Wamare Institute

The Institute addresses the gender-related challenges that female returnees face due to their status as females, their perceived or actual loss of ‘virginity’ during their time with the LRA, and the enhanced stigma for young women who have returned with children as a result of rape and sexual enslavement.  The Institute combines capacity building workshops with trauma-related sessions and health modules in support of their recovery and reintegration and in recognition of their aspirations to create a different life for themselves and their children.

Based on the consultations with female returnees and service providers in northern Uganda between 2014-2016, the Institute is designed to:

  • support the ongoing healing and recovery process for young women;
  • build support networks amongst this community of victims/survivors from diverse ethnic groups as a source of ongoing peer support and foster reconciliation;
  • develop knowledge and life skills (including parenting skills, reproductive and sexual health information sessions and ‘food as medicine’ workshops highlighting the use of traditional herbs in cooking as an affordable and accessible response to address some of the chronic health issues faced by female returnees and their children);
  • support ongoing healing, personal recovery and trauma management through music and dance, peer-to-peer story-telling and body-mapping sessions (acknowledging the harm they experienced);
  • the development of personal skills for managing flashbacks, anxiety, anger and isolation through psychosocial education sessions provided by trained psychologists; and
  • provide opportunities for capacity building with a focus on savings and loan credit schemes, entrepreneurial skills (applicable to income generation projects), advocacy skills, and designing targeted interventions to influence implementation of the transitional justice policy as a strategy to support their reintegration and foster community reconciliation.

The methodology of the Institute is premised upon having 25-30 participants/Institute. Those working with returnees in northern Uganda confirm our assessment that the size of the group impacts on the quality of the experience and that small groups work better with returnees who are at varying stages of their recovery. Some are familiar with participating in workshops whilst others have not have had the opportunity to engage in training and group conversations. The size of the Institute with 30 participants enables us to more easily tailor the training to respond to the individual needs of returnees.

Specific Activities 2017-2019:

  • Launch of the Wamare Institute and holding four-five institutes between 2017-2019 for 100-150 young women.
  • Six-month follow-up interviews with all participants for the first year after graduating from the Institute.
  • Within the first year following graduation, we will provide training for local groups of female returnees on an income generation and entrepreneurial area of their choosing (e.g savings, loans and credit scheme; bead-making; dress-making; goat husbandry; bag-making, other initiatives).
  • Following the training and the development of a business plan by local groups of returnees, we will provide seeding funding for income-generation projects to be established and we will cover the first year of running costs. This will be offered to groups of returnees only, not for individual returnees.
  • Creation of a reintegration assistance fund for returnees with a focus on supporting their children to have access to education.
  • Produce a short documentary about female returnees as they rebuild their lives.