Context: Post-conflict, returning formerly-abducted child mothers
Objective: To transform the lives of formerly-abducted child mothers and other vulnerable child mothers in Northern Uganda and expand the capacity of local churches and communities to provide further support in this area. The New Life Centre worked to rehabilitate these women and girls through counselling, the provision of a nurturing and loving living environment, and practical training in livelihood skills.
Why this project?
Following the 2006 peace agreement and the cessation of fighting, tens of thousands of Ugandan girls, with babies in tow, escaped from or were released by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and attempted to reintegrate into their former communities. Many of the girls, referred to as formerly-abducted child mothers (FACMs), were deeply traumatised and needed help, but were rejected by their families and communities. They became doubly marginalised as former sex slaves with young babies and no means of livelihood as well as former sex slaves rejected by their families and communities. In addition to the FACMs, another group of child mothers emerged as a result of the conflict. These other vulnerable child mothers (OVCMs) between the ages of 14 and 18 were not abducted by the LRA, but were subjected to rape and mistreatment.
For FACMs and OVCMs in need of intensive psychosocial care, the New Life Centre offered a safe haven where girls (up to 36 at a time) would participate in a 12-week rehabilitation and counselling programme which included social, emotional and vocational support. The families of the girls would also receive ongoing counselling support from FH staff and trained counsellors within their communities throughout the programme in order to reduce levels of marginalisation when the girls returned to their homes. At the completion of the 12-week programme, counsellors trained by FH from within the communities (often from the local church) would be responsible for follow-up visits and ongoing counselling and care for the girls and their families.
FH also provided support through adult literacy and numeracy education, as well as income generating activity (IGA) opportunities. For the IGA programme, the child mothers were organised into groups and provided with training in the technical and managerial skills necessary for starting a business. Each group decided which business venture(s) to engage in. Activities ranged from mushroom and other vegetable production to small livestock (poultry, goat) raising to petty trade.
The New Life Centre was affiliated to the Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau (UPMB) and worked through local churches and community leadership structures to implement this programme and ensure that participating volunteers, teachers, church leaders and community leaders were linked with and supported by the relevant Ugandan government offices in order to receive ongoing assistance from them at the end of the life of the programme.
Between 2009 and 2012, 6,000 mothers and children were impacted by the New Life Centre Programme.
“Jennifer’s time at the Centre helped her to forgive, and violence is no longer the answer to her problems… The skills she learned at the Centre help her to grow corn and cabbage, and sell them for a profit. She has two children, a three-year-old and a baby. In addition, Jennifer is continuing the cycle of help by providing for two orphan girls… The knowledge and skills she gained at the Centre are benefiting other vulnerable girls as well.”
Once FACMs and OVCMs started to attend the New Life Centre, it was observed that child mothers and their children were frequently falling ill. This prompted further medical investigations that revealed high levels of HIV infection among the mothers and their children. Responding to the prevailing need for quality and comprehensive HIV services, FH turned the once small first aid facility into a fully-fledged medical centre providing both clinical and community-based services.
This project was delivered by Food for the Hungry.