‘I really want to see my children. They have been my strength’

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“In September 2003, life was good. I was happy, healthy and my family; my two sons and baby daughter, we were ok. My favourite football team Arsenal was playing Manchester United at Old Trafford. We were watching on the television. It was the Battle of Old Trafford. It ended nil-nil and I was glad. My husband was a Man U fan and I, an Arsenal fan. Whenever they beat us I couldn’t even eat and even if I cooked food, I chose not to eat because I was annoyed we lost to Manchester. They laughed at me and I got nervous. I don’t talk to people the day we lose because my team has been beaten. But when Arsenal wins, I am the happiest and still cannot even sleep. 

But this happiness was taken away from me in October of 2003 when militants from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army entered my home in Eastern Uganda and killed my husband. I hid my children before they took me away. For two days, we were on the road travelling through Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo and finally stopped in the Garamba National Park.

It’s a place of wild animals. Life was not easy in Garamba because we didn’t have clean water and dead bodies were like a normal thing like fire wood because they didn’t have time for burying the people they killed. At times they kill and just leave bodies for time to take care of. It was a terrible life. If you make any mistake, if you want to escape and they catch you, you don’t survive. You have to die.”

Garamba National Park, among Africa’s oldest, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Forest Service photo by Roni Ziade

‘We were raped by three people each day’

“It was really very difficult, I didn’t know life. I had lost hope of living and I knew I was going to die.

There were many women. We were more than 200. Most painful thing is most of them were young kids and they were being trained to be child soldiers. I was thinking maybe they brought the women to be their women. But if you want someone to be your wife you can’t continue to rape her like that. If I tell you that I’ve slept with more than 100 LRA rebels, don’t be surprised. 

I think maybe we were raped by three people in a day each.

Some women were also forced to join the LRA rebels. The soldier who killed my husband was a woman who had a baby on her back.

Most of the time we didn’t sleep and at night maybe we only slept for three hours, maybe in the daytime for two hours and we slept in turns with our friends. You cannot sleep for more than five hours because you have to be alert all the time. You cannot sleep. How can you sleep? We were alert because of the soldiers.

Kony could sleep with four or five women. He called for me. I never spoke with him, I mean what could I say? He doesn’t talk to the women. No, I could not speak to him. He does what he wants and then he leaves you there. Kony doesn’t have mercy for human beings, no. Kony is not a human being, he’s like an animal.”

The Ugandan rebel leader, Joseph Kony has been described as a warlord, kidnapper and ‘prophet’

‘Kony named my son Joseph Kony’

“Some six years into the ordeal, I fell pregnant and Joseph Kony claimed the child as his own. 

When I gave birth he said that it is his son but I don’t know because so many men used me. When he realised that I was pregnant he could not allow any man again to rape me apart from himself until I gave birth.

My son was taken away from me when he was around 8 to 9 months and he was taken to Sudan, to North Sudan. Kony named him Joseph Kony. I was with the child but he told me this kid is going to be taken, ‘he’s not going to be with you, he’s not going to be here with us in the bush, he’s going to be a child soldier but not here’.

And it wasn’t only me, there were several ladies who were also like, the women were about eight; they also gave birth in the bush and their children were taken away from them. So everybody was telling me, ‘don’t waste your time, this boy is not going to be with us here, he’ll be taken away from you’. I don’t know whether I’ll see him again.”

‘I was free’

“There was an Arab man who always came to Garamba. He always brought bullets and bombs you know, fighting equipment in wooden boxes. So when that man came they chose us to offload the truck. The Arab guy said he could help me but ‘if they catch you I will say I don’t know you and I don’t even know how you got into the car and know that when they catch you, you are going to die’ and then I said let’s give it a try. If they catch us we know that we are going to die and the man said, are you serious? And I said yes.

We entered the car, we entered fast when we were offloading and didn’t come back out. When you enter to take the boxes, you go deep inside; you don’t come back. We were six in the truck. We passed one roadblock and it was ok. The second one also was good and after the third one he thanked God in Arabic, I would never forget his words and I was free.

My best friend from the bush, she didn’t make it to freedom alive. She died on my chest. I thought maybe ‘it is because of the bad water or maybe malaria, or yellow fever’; I didn’t understand. We didn’t bury her properly but I had to go but if I’m still alive, I want to go and rebury my friend.”

A refugee in Greece

“I got to Greece. In Greece, I got in touch with a priest from Uganda through a Christian group in Europe. On one of our video calls he told me that he had a surprise for me. Then I was like what surprise, I don’t know, what surprise? He told me to calm down. Then he brought my sons and said ‘do you remember these kids?’ and I said yes I remember him. He looks a lot like his father. The priest said what? And I said yes, that is my first born. That is my son.

And then he showed me the second son and I said yes, that was that. 

Nakout Sylvia who is a South Sudanese refugee lived in Greece for a short time

The first time when I started speaking to my children, they didn’t bring my daughter up. After about three months, after asking again, there was a video call with her. She said she doesn’t have parents, her parents are dead and she doesn’t know that woman, to me. She didn’t want to talk to me.

I’ve never communicated with her. I really want my daughter and maybe if I spend time with her, maybe she’ll forgive me. It hurts me when she says she has no parents and her parents are dead. That is the most painful part that I think I cannot forgive myself. I’ve never been a good mother but I did want to be one. My children don’t know anything, all they know is that I am safe. For 15 years I’ve not seen them. The only thing I have now is the hope that I will see them again one day. It is my only hope in the world right now. I have nothing apart from them now. That is the only hope I have. That is the only thing that gives me strength – I really want to see my children. 

Even if I see them now, I hug them and I die, I’ll die peacefully.”

This is Nakout Sylvia’s story. She was sex slave and prisoner to the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony, the notorious warlord who kidnapped women and children, brainwashing children to become child soldiers.

She now lives in safety in Finland.

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