Under the auspices of the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), IYEP's founding members received training in conflict resolution and peer trauma counseling. Thereafter, they began work in nearby IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, sensitizing communities against negative stereotypes concerning former abductees — as well as counseling returnees to help them readjust to life among non-combatants.
Using funding provided by the Archdiocese of Gulu's Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), IYEP was able to send 30 toddlers born in LRA captivity to quality nursery schools.
While Uganda has free universal primary education, nursery schools are private — making the cost of early childhood education prohibitive for many families. IYEP felt that because these children had been born in the LRA and were being raised by single mothers (who, as formerly abducted persons, were often rejected by their communities) they faced especially severe disadvantages. The organization hoped that by providing them with attentive care and teaching during early formative years, it might be able to put them on a more even footing with other children.
Recipients were identified and chosen based on greatest need. This was assessed through interviews with mothers. The program lasted through 2006, at which point the group was ready to enter primary schools.
Distribution of Critical Household Items
IYEP teamed up with the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to provide a number of families in Koro Abili IDP camp with much needed household items. While UNICEF provided funding, IYEP identified the 30 households suffering from greatest shortages in the camp. These then received items such as jerricans, basins, and pots — materials critically important to the maintenance of a basic standard of health and sanitation in the camps.
Building on their earlier outreach work, IYEP organized 30 Peace Groups at IDP camps in the Gulu area. These groups, consisting of 30 members each, were designed to bring youths together in constructive ways and provide them with an opportunity for enriching activities in the otherwise extremely bleak camp setting. IYEP staff led the groups in conflict management workshops; as well as in explorations of traditional Acholi dance, music, and theater — all of which had been largely neglected and lost in younger generations, due to the war.
The program was made possible by the continued financial assistance of the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF).
IYEP partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP) to distribute food to those households most desperately in need in the Gulu municipality.
Camp Football Clubs
Through the support of Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD), IYEP supplemented the continuing activities of its Peace Groups with the creation of football leagues for camp youth. The teams helped youth develop healthy exercise habits and strengthened their ability to work together with peers.
IYEP organized a number of AIDS awareness workshops to teach camp youth about HIV prevention and treatment. The project was a response to the disproportionately high rate of infection among northern Uganda's IDP population.
In 2006, IYEP was asked to partner with Windle Trust International and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the implementation of the Acholi Bursary Scheme — a project intended to provide financial independence through education to some 3,500 war-affected youth in northern Uganda.
IYEP was assigned to a project aimed specifically at expanding educational opportunities for young women and girls. As members of the community, the staff were asked by their international partners to assess local needs and vet beneficiaries for the project. Through an extensive process of interviews in Gulu municipality, and Omoro and Aswa counties, IYEP members selected 147 participants for the program. This group consisted of a balanced mix of former LRA abductees and highly vulnerable camp youth — many of whom were also child mothers. The girls and women were enrolled in secondary schools as well as in professional training programs in areas such as nursing, accounting, and secretarial work. 184 children belonging to these young women and girls were also funded for nursery school through the program.
A number of the beneficiaries were able to complete their courses. Unfortunately, however, most had their studies cut short in 2008. Due to the global economic crisis, funding for A Girl Child's Right to Education has run out and the program has been terminated before its completion. Though IYEP was not initially responsible for the financial component of the project, the group opposes leaving these women in the lurch. The organization is now looking into alternatives for the program's former participants and attempting to find funds which would allow them to complete their studies.
Peer Counseling Program
In late 2006, IYEP staff began training camp youth in peer counseling. (Members of IYEP had themselves received professional training in 2004.) Realizing that there were not nearly enough professional counselors to address the trauma of the local population, IYEP embarked on a victim-to-victim approach. They began by counseling certain members of camp communities and then training those to assist others. What these peer counselors lacked in professional preparation, they made up for in life experience: having themselves suffered in the conflict, they were well equipped to relate to other victims. IYEP supplemented this experience with training in basic techniques of psychological assistance.
By 2008 all beneficiaries of IYEP's nursery school scholarship program had graduated from their nurseries and entered primary schools in the Gulu area. There are no fees for primary education in Uganda. However, students are expected to provide their own school supplies. The price of such items (notebooks, pens, textbooks, uniforms, etc.) is often more than some families can afford. With funding from Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD), IYEP followed up on its nursery school scholarships by providing recipients with scholastic materials for the commencement of their primary education. In addition, they expanded the program to include a number of these children's classmates. Unlike the original beneficiaries of the program, these pupils were not born in LRA captivity but rather, were identified by school administrators as particularly vulnerable for a host of other reasons. In total, over 100 students received school supplies.
IYEP provided 60 people with vocational training. Trainees included LRA returnees and vulnerable youth from camps. They were given the option of training in compound design, brick laying and concrete practice, driving, or tailoring and were allowed to choose for themselves which path to pursue. Upon completion of these courses, each trainee received the necessary tools to begin work in his or her new trade. Funding was once again provided by Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD).
IYEP trained 60 child mothers in bookkeeping, entrepreneurship, and small-scale business management. The group was thereafter divided into two market collectives.
Extended AIDS Awareness Education
With funding from Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD), IYEP extended its AIDS awareness training to all the IDP camps in Gulu district (at the time, this still included the area that has now become Amuru district).
Through funding from Africa Project USA, IYEP distributed 10 bikes to the leaders of the most remote Peace Groups. This allowed members of these groups to maintain closer contact with IYEP staff.
Further Distribution of Scholastic Materials
With further funding from Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD), IYEP provided the recipients of the 2008 scholastic material distribution project with school supplies for another academic year.
IYEP led a second round of vocational training courses. This time, the program involved 30 trainees. Participants had the option of receiving training in one of the following fields: bricklaying and concrete practice, carpentry and joinery, glass cutting, tile fitting, or tailoring and clothing design. Graduates of these courses all received tools as a follow up to their training. The program was funded by Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD).
Hydrofoam Machine Training
IYEP teamed up with the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) to provide four vulnerable youths with training in hydrofoam machine operation. The training lasted three weeks and a third development organization, The German Development Service (DED), purchased a machine for the trainees to share upon completion of their course.
This project opened up a great deal of possibilities not only for the four beneficiaries directly involved, but also for other recipients of IYEP vocational training. After receiving hydrofoam training, each of these four trainees became the head of a construction team composed of other IYEP beneficiaries — graduates of previous vocational training programs who had studied in areas such as tile fitting, and bricklaying and concrete practice. As a team (especially one with a hydrofoam machine operator), they are far more likely to obtain work contracts than they would otherwise be as individual workers. In an average contract, the hydrofoam operator receives about 400,000UGX and the remaining workers are paid about 320000UGX per job.
Using funds from Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD), IYEP established a revolving loan scheme for the child mothers involved in their 2007-2008 business training project. Each of the two market collectives internally elected administrators and was given 1,000,000UGX as capital for establishing such small businesses as vegetable stands, hair braiding salons, tailor shops, etc. The money belongs to the group as a whole, but any member can apply for a loan to strengthen her business. Over the course of a period designated by the group administrators, she will then repay the money so that other women in the group can obtain funds for their projects.
Beginning in late 2006, with peace talks underway between the LRA and Ugandan government officials, a sense of relative safety and stability began to spread through Uganda's northern, war-affected districts. Though the talks ultimately unraveled, the region remained fairly peaceful as Kony and his troops shifted their activity to eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a result, many IDP camp inhabitants began a gradual exodus back to their long-abandoned villages. Witnessing this shift in the local situation, IYEP started to adjust its programs accordingly. In 2008, the organization began work directed at helping returned IDP's begin a new life outside of the camps.
To this end, IYEP established a close relationship with 13 villages in Gulu district. The organization soon realized that progress and reconstruction was being stalled in all villages due to mounting tensions among residents. In general, disputes and conflict tended to arise over issues of land ownership. After as many as 13 years in camps, villagers often had trouble demonstrating their rights to property in their former homes. This was especially the case in families in which the head of the household had died or been unable to return from the camps. In addition, lack of trust between LRA returnees and villagers who had not been abducted contributed to ill-feelings and pernicious divisions within the community.
To combat these tensions, IYEP organized a series of conflict resolution workshops. In order to assist villagers in resolving property disputes peacefully, the organization helped the members of each village reach agreements on land sharing and collective farming -- encouraging them to work together on property whenever possible and organize regular group meetings and discussions to keep conflict at a minimum. For cases in which no agreement could be reached on the village level, IYEP also educated villagers in navigation of the Local Council court system — thus allowing them a peaceful and legal route to resolving their arguments.
In addition, IYEP worked to alleviate lingering suspicion and hostility between LRA returnees and their fellow villagers. Through a series of courses and village counseling sessions, they worked to open up lines of communication and bring about a sense of understanding between the two groups. Villagers who had never been abducted were educated about the suffering and challenges experienced by former LRA captives, and taught to cope with their misconceptions and fears about this sector of society. Returnees, in turn, received counseling from formerly abducted members of IYEP to help them readjust to the norms of civilian life. As a culmination to the project, IYEP trained volunteers from each village to act as peer counselors and mediators in their communities. These individuals now monitor the situation in their villages on a continuous basis and step in at the first sign of an escalating conflict.
Naturally, it will take many years and a great deal of work before the tensions and rifts in these communities can be fully healed. Nevertheless, progress is being made. As one young man in the village of Loyoboo put it, "It is still not that easy for us. But after the [IYEP] classes there is more trust. The former LRA people used to live separate from the rest of us but now we live together. When there are problems or fears people are willing to talk about it, and there are those in the village who have learned to help us resolve our arguments."
Continuing their work with the 13 villages mentioned above, IYEP began to address some of the villagers' more pressing material needs. Through funding from Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD), they secured three goats, three pigs, and three chickens for each village. In addition, IYEP succeeded in enrolling three of the villages in an extended poultry donation program under the auspices of the National Agricultural Advisory Scheme (NAADS). These first animals are shared by the entire village and cared for by all residents. As they begin to reproduce (as some already have) they will be distributed among individual households through lottery or voting systems devised by each village.
There have been significant challenges in caring for these animals, as many those in remote villages have in some cases fallen victim to parasites and disease, while some in villages closer to town have been run over by vehicles. In addition, certain village groups have found pigs more difficult to care for than goats. Across several villages, swine have proven harder to feed and more susceptible to illness. In some communities, villagers are therefore planning to sell their pigs for more goats. The hope is that the goats will thrive better than swine and will therefore ultimately speed up the process of animal restocking in the entire village. While it was initially the hope of IYEP that all villages would follow through with the livestock originally donated to them, the organization respects the villagers' rights to come to their own conclusions regarding the restocking project and encourages each group to make independent decisions as it sees fit.
Food for Work
In order to jump start food production in the aforementioned villages, IYEP enrolled each of the communities in the World Food Programme's (WFP) Food for Work project. In exchange for clearing and reconstructing local roads, the members of each village were provided with seedlings to begin new crops. Plants supplied by the WFP included avocado, mango, and oranges (all of which can be consumed directly or sold in nearby markets) — as well as pine and eucalyptus trees (which can be used by villagers for building huts or sold as timber for construction work). In addition to planting crops for their own use, certain villages were enrolled in a reforestation projects in areas where fighting between the LRA and UPDF had led to degradation of the natural environment. IYEP also secured four watering machines for shared use and helped the 13 villages in the program coordinate with one another to ensure equal access to the tools.
For the first year of the project, villagers recieved monthly rations of rice, beans, and corn meal from the WFP in exchange for their agricultural work. Due to resource limitations and the effects of the 2008-2009 global econonmic crisis, however, the World Food Programme has had to scale down much of its work in Uganda. In mid-to-late 2009, the organization began a withdrawal from Uganada's Acholi distrcts — opting, instead to focus their efforts on the Karamoja region to the east.
This development constitutes a serious blow to the progress of these villages. The situation is exacerbated by the fact many of the crops have been destroyed by termites or other parasites in recent months. Still, it is hoped that a sufficient portion of the plants has survived to allow villagers some small degree of profit. This in turn, can then be used to lay the groundwork for farming projects in the coming year. IYEP is currently seeking new means by which to continue agricultural assistance in these communities in the absence of WFP involvement.
Starting in September of 2009, IYEP began a collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Together, the two organizations have been working to expand assistance to IDP's as they seek to return to their former homes and reestablish their old communities. While IYEP's original outreach to recently resettled IDP's was limited to 13 villages, the group's partnership with IOM has allowed it to extend its reach to another 65 villages across 6 sub-counties of Gulu District. The programme approaches resettlement assistance from both a social and an economic angle, and targets people whose formative childhood and adolescent years coincided with the height of the war (i.e. those between the ages of 19 and 30). People in this age range are some of the most likely to have experienced LRA abduction, and even those who were never themselves taken by the rebels were severely hindered in their development by the conditions of life in the camps.
At the start of the programme, IYEP staff held meetings with community leaders in each of the participating villages in order to acquaint them with the design and aims of the project. Rather than choose the participants themselves, IYEP workers asked each community to identify the youths they considered the most vulnerable and in need of assistance. After the selection process, IYEP returned to the villages to screen each group's choices, so as to ensure that those selected for the programme came from a full cross-section of the community and not simply from families with connections to village leaders.
Over the next several months, IYEP staff worked in each of the villages to provide counseling to the youths enrolled in the program. In every community, participants were organized into support groups and taught conflict resolution techniques. In addition, all participants were trained in counselling methods so as to be able to continue to meet with one another in support groups and help each other through challenges even after the IYEP counselling sessions ended.
In the second phase of the project, IYEP has worked to create long-term employment opportunities for participants in their local communities. In some cases, they referred participants for jobs in existing businesses such as the fair trade tailors' cooperative xx One Mango Tree. However, for the most part, they helped beneficiaries start their own employment initiatives. In each location, IOM has provided the funding necessary for both training and equipment, while IYEP has organized the courses themselves and taken care of logistics on the ground. The participants have played a key role in deciding what sort of employment to pursue, and in each village the business model has been tailored to the needs and resources of the community.
In Palenga, for example, the Waneno Anyim Youth Group has chosen to establish a bakery. Through the facilitation of IYEP and IOM, the members of this group have completed baking courses and finished the construction of their own large-scale ovens. They are now regularly producing breads, cakes, and small pastries for sale in the Gulu municipality. Meanwhile, in Ongako, youths elected to come together as a beekeeping cooperative. IYEP and IOM organized a brief course of training for the participants and provided funds for the purchase of Kenya Top Bar hives, smoke kits, bee suits, bee veils, and other necessary equipment. The youth group members now sell their raw honey to processors in Gulu Town, for packaging and shipment all over Uganda. They hope to earn enough from these sales to be able to process and pack the honey themselves and develop their own brand for sale to consumers. Groups in other villages have embarked on a wide range of other employment projects — including the organization of ox-plough sharing cooperatives for agricultural production, and the establishment of local grain mills.
Land Conflict Resolution Training
Nearly five years into the IDP resettlement process, the issue of land ownership continues to spawn severe tension within Acholi communities. By all accounts, land-owership is currently the single greatest source of violent conflict in the region. Having conducted Conflict Management Workshops for returned IDP's in 2007-2008, IYEP now decided to address the matter from a different angle. Partnering with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Jamii ya Kupatanisha (JYAK), the Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE), and the Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO), IYEP helped to organize a series of courses to train local authorities in arbitrating land disputes. Participants included police personnel, local court employees, and traditional leaders.
Self-help Groups for Vulnerable Youth
By 2010 the groups in the above-mentioned Community Based Reintegration Programme had become largely self-sustainable. The youth groups no longer required IYEP's assistance in pursuing their work. Accordingly, IYEP and IOM embarked on a new project in a similar vein. Using IOM funding, IYEP organized 11 self-help groups for vulnerable youth throughout rural areas of Gulu district. The groups consisted of between 7 and 25 members and were in each case alloted 158,250UGX per member, to be invested in a joint income-generating project. IYEP staff trained each group in small business management and bookkeeping. At the end of the training IYEP and each group discussed possibilities various possibilities for a project. Once a prefered option was agreed upon, IYEP staff members guided each group in a cash-flow analysis to ensure the idea they had come up with was financially viable. The organization then assisted each group in acquiring the necessary tools and resources. After the initial stages of each project, IYEP stepped back from the process, nevertheless checking in periodically to provide advice.
The self-help groups chose to pursue projects very similar to the ones undertaken by Community Based Reintegration Programme participants. These included bee-keeping cooperatives, bakeries, and agricultural initiatives. All groups have managed to become self-sustainable, with some becoming especially successful over the course of the past year.
One group, for example used its initial funds to purchase 2 hectars of land for farming. Their profits from the first planting season allowed them purchase another three hectars. Further profits from this land allowed them, in turn, to expand to 27 hectars. Besides farming, they have now also begun cooking and catering with the food they produce.
In April of 2010, in collaboration with organizations such as IOM and World Vision, the World Food Programme (WFP) launched the Karamoja Productive Assets Programme — a project aimed at addressing the underlying causes of chronic malnutrition and food shortage in the Karamoja region of Uganda. Though the initial plan was to implement the programme entirely through partnerships with Karamajong organizations, there ultimately proved to be a dearth of suitable local NGO's in the region. As a result, in July 2010, IOM asked IYEP staff to step in to fill the function of local implementation partner in the Abim district of Karamoja.
IYEP's primary roll in the Karamoja Productive Assets Programme has been to train local communities in agricultural practices so as to help them transition out of their exclusive dependence on livestock. As an incentive for community involvement, WFP provided participating households with 40% food rations in the form of maize. IYEP staff then trained participants in crop planting, tending, and harvesting. Seeds were provided by WFP, World Vision, and IOM and included both local and imported cultivars. IOM was also responsible for the provision of equipment. They supplied participants with barbed wire for fencing as well as metal blades for hoes, spades, etc. IYEP then oversaw the labor involved in constructing enclosures as well as in fashioning wooden handles for the tools provided. Their staff also trained Karamojong facilitators, known as "Green Warriors," in fertilizing methods, pest control, and other critical agricultural skills. As locals, these Green Warriors are better positioned to train other members of the community in a sustainable manner.
Participants in the programme are learning to plant crops both for sale and for subsistance. In order help create a market in the area, the Italian aid organization Cesvi has constructed food stores throughout the region. Locals have now started to sell their maize, sorghum, and rice harvests to these stores. At the moment, the primary customer for these products is in fact the WFP. The agency buys these grains at 1,000UGX/kg and then uses them in food distribution campaigns in other parts of the country.
The program has continued into 2011 and IYEP will also expand its work in Karamoja under NUSAF II, the latest iteration of Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF).
Capacity Building For Women and Youth Land Rights
Building off of their findings and experience in the Land Conflict Resolution Training project, IYEP decided to further pursue the issue of land strife in Acholi communities. In the final months of 2011, through a generous grant from The Open Society Institute for East Africa (OSIEA), IYEP initiated an expanded project to strengthen protection of women's and youths' land rights in Gulu and Nwoya districts. Following preliminary research to assess areas with the highest incidence of land rights violations, the organization chose to focus on four sub-counties: Koro and Koch Ongako in Gulu district, and Anaka and Alero in Nwoya.
Baseline surveys in these sub-counties revealed a severe deficit in knowledge of the laws surrounding land ownership — even among law enforcement and elected officials. This is, perhaps, not surprising given that the most recent iterations of Uganda's land law went into effect during the years in which over 90% of the population of Acholiland was living in IDP camps. The fact remains, however, that since civilians' return to their villages, very little has been done to fill this gap in knowledge. Police officers were found to have had no instruction in current Ugandan land law and officials at the Local Councilor III level or lower had not been trained in legal arbitration of land conflict. Worse still, certain officials were found, in some cases, to be exploiting the ignorance of their constituents and subordinates in order to secure land for themselves or make a profit from the disputes of others. In all four sub-counties weaker members of the community often found themselves barred from accessing land. Overwhelmingly, these tended to be women and young people. In some cases, female and youth-headed families were violently evicted from land that was rightfully theirs. Such evictions involved acts of arson, death threats, and even bodily mutilations. In the aftermath, victims reported not knowing where to turn for assistance in regaining their property. Even when they attempted to voice their concerns in meetings at the village and sub-county level, they were overwhelmingly silenced and marginalized by older male participants.
In light of these findings, IYEP staff find it especially important to educate local communities on Ugandan land law and legal avenues for settling land disputes. Though the current project's primary aims center around strengthening the position of women and youth with regard to land ownership, IYEP have chosen to take a holistic approach. Time and again in their work, IYEP staff have found that improving the standing of one demographic requires the involvement of the entire community.
The implementation phase of the project began with workshops for women and for youth in each of the participating sub-counties. In these sessions, IYEP staff have partnered with lawyers to teach beneficiaries about their legal rights regarding land ownership, and the protection to which they are entitled under Ugandan law. These trainings have also served as a safe space in which women (or youth, depending on the focus group) could share their experiences with one another and brainstorm ways to support each other in the face of adversity. A second set of traingins focuses on local government officials law enforcement personnel, and traditional leaders, with an aim to ensure that these publice employees gain a full understanding of land law as it applies to the communities they serve. Finally, a third set of workshops is designed to bring the participants of the previous trainings together into a single forum in which they can discuss the land issues they face.
These workshops and trainings will continue throughout most of 2012. It is IYEP's hope that they will ultimately foster respect within local communities for the land rights of women and youth, and that they will empower disadvantaged groups to assert their rights to land ownership and to seek out legal protection when necessary.