Friday, July 13, 2007

we are the world, we are the children

As my third trip to Uganda, this was also my third trip to Paicho Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, home to just over 11,000 outside of Gulu. It is a four hour walk from town in the oft-scorching sun of northern Uganda. I never get used to witnessing the poverty in the camps; seeing Paicho hasn’t ceased to turn my stomach. I am immediately and consistently struck by the desolation. The charm of rural life around Gulu is lost on this space, which is congested enough to disorient, eternally dusty (except when it is eternally muddy), and seemingly devoid of all hope.

Half of Paicho’s residents are children, many of whom lost their parents to either the conflict or AIDS. It is this issue of missing parents that struck me the most during this visit. It seemed as if the camp’s adults had all mysteriously disappeared. Aside from a few elderly and some men drinking local brew in a bar, it was now largely overrun with kids – dirty kids, naked kids, kids carrying baby brothers or sisters on their backs, kids suffering from kwashiorkor, kids filled with worms and kids chewing on plastic bits found on the ground.

The Juba Peace Talks reached a milestone in the last few weeks when the third portion of the five-part agreement was signed, signifying a consensus reached on accountability and reconciliation. Involved parties are saying that the talks have reached a point of no return - anticipating a finalized agreement by September of this year.

On the ground, this translates into anbother notch of success in strengthening the fragile sense of security in the region. After a decade of life in the camps, IDPs are going home. At Paicho, this means that during the day adults and older children are traveling to their ancestral lands to begin digging and planting – a return to the rich agricultural tradition of Acholiland, and a hopeful sign for a people beginning to feed themselves. The signal of a future step away from the packs from UN World Food Program. It truly is a sign of hope, albeit a mixed one for the children back at Paicho, who are unsupervised until about 2 p.m., when the adults typically return from tilling the land. Another fold in the ever-complex issue of achieving peace and development in this region.

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