Northern Uganda Widows Cry Out

Rose Anunu, 43, easily cuts a frustrated figure. She lost her first husband, with whom she had three children when the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, attacked her village in Aswa County in Gulu in 1994.

In her second effort, she married a UPDF soldier, Salawaya Okema, who died last year in Kotido. Today, Anunu is struggling to feed nine children, none of whom are in school. She can’t afford to pay their school dues, which range from Shs 9,000 to Shs 15,000.

“For three years now I have been suffering from joint pains, which have [stopped] me from cultivating, and because of this normally we cannot get what to eat unless the children go to cultivate and they are given something,” Anunu says, sounding really sad. Anunu’s eldest son, now 18, could not afford school beyond primary seven.

Anunu thought her nine children would be taken up for sponsorship by the government; her late husband had served in the forces and had died while still in service. She was wrong. In addition, Anunu’s in-laws have also turned against her. The uncles to her latest husband recently claimed his two cows. The relatives also want the family land in Aguu village, which initially belonged to her father-in-law, but was passed on to her deceased soldier husband.

“My family is also under serious threat to be evicted from the land. My husband was given this land by the father but the uncles want to send us away from the land,” she adds. And her efforts to provide shelter for the family are also fallen on a hard rock.

“I have already gathered grass to build my own house but no man can help me, if I go seeking help from other women’s husbands, I’m accused of wanting them (the men),” she says. But Anunu is not alone in her plight.

Cizella Ajok, a mother of four, wants government to sponsor her two children, who recently dropped out of secondary school. Ajok, 56, has to farm and feed her children. She lost her husband in 2003, after he reportedly coughed and vomited blood. The two women represent a generation of people who have known suffering and are likely to bequeath more misery to their offspring.

Following the insurgency in northern Uganda, many women were left widowed and their children became orphans. This has resulted in a high incidence of street children, a high school dropout rate and child labour, among others, in northern Uganda. Some have been looking to NGOs to help these people.

Although some are getting the help, most NGOs seem overwhelmed by the number of needy in the region. Anunu and Ajok say the hope that the Office of the Prime Minister will be able to step back in and help them, under the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, was recently shattered by donor cuts.

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