By Chris Todd, Communications Officer at Generations For Peace
For Charles, violence left a mark on those things which most kids take for granted:
The toys he played with were bullets left over from whatever attack had been most recently carried out during the Karamojong cattle raids or by the Uganda People’s Army (UPA).
The community he called ‘home’ was a conflict zone in the Teso sub-region of Uganda’s Eastern Region caught in the middle of the violence incited by the UPA and, later, Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The ‘papa’ who raised him was an aggressive abuser, and the ‘mamma’ who protected him was his father’s victim.
Perhaps due to its geopolitical positioning between countries like South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which are known for widespread outbreaks of violence, Uganda has long struggled with violent conflict. From armed insurgencies that made global headlines to increases in organised crime and political protests that escalate to riots, Charles has witnessed first-hand the impact of violence on both him and his community.
No conflict, however, has impacted him more than one of the most recently recognised and quickly-growing challenges facing Uganda: gender-based violence (GBV).
Charles was not yet ten years old when he first began to see his mother suffer abuse and beatings. Helpless and afraid, he could do nothing to stop his father from attacking her, leaving her bruised and bleeding on the floor of their home, even leading her to attempted suicide.
Charles’ mother is not a unique case: between January and August 2018 alone, over 4,000 instances of GBV have been reported in Uganda: 36% of those were marked by physical abuse, 21% by rape, and 21% by emotional or psychological abuse. In schools, upwards of 43% of students in Uganda experience bullying and corporal punishment, while over 40% experience sexual abuse and gender-based violence either on campus or on their way to or from school.
This violence he experienced while growing up led Charles to join the Young Franciscans, who worked in his region to bring together different religious groups to create peace amongst one another and within their broader communities. It was through this experience that he was first introduced to Generations For Peace.
When he originally took part in the programmes, he and his fellow Volunteers implemented Sport For Peace activities designed to unite youth from different religious backgrounds, who are often at odds with one another. Now, as GFP has grown in the country, it has begun implementing a new programme in Kampala and Soroti to respond to the mounting challenge of violence based on gender in secondary schools.
Launched just this year in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, the new GFP programme uses both Sport- and Arts For Peace activities to counter school-related GBV. Working with GFP’s local partner, Rights of Young Foundation (RYF), the programme is active on two secondary school campuses that witness staggering rates of GBV among students.
“Though it is indirect,” Charles says, “young people take seriously the examples of traditions they hear about in class, which shape their thinking in the distribution of gender roles. I think this is part of what is causing violence.”
Having grown up under the dark shadow of gender-based violence, Charles now has the opportunity to ensure that youth work together to stop the pervasive cycle of abuse and violence in places that should be marked by peace – at school, in their communities, and at home.
“Here now, I have come to understand how much I was affected by violence, especially personally,” Charles reflected. “Lately, in GFP’s School-Related Gender-Based Violence Programme, I discovered that violence is still being propagated – even in the very institutions that should have been preaching peace.”
Using carefully designed activities, he is able to join dedicated Volunteers as they empower youth to build peace and transform conflict that exists along the lines of gender in Uganda.