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Where there’s hope – life after terror

2013 January 3
by Paul Vallely

“I ran to the hospital and as soon as I saw her I started crying and hugged her,” Mary said. “The joy when I saw her was so amazing, I didn’t expect to see her again.”

Mary was overjoyed to have her daughter home. Hope was overwhelmed at the reunion.

“At first sight of my mum I had tears in my eyes,” the girl said.   I thought my mum was dead and I considered myself dead too. I thought I wouldn’t survive.”

Those early months brought euphoria. “My thinking changed,” the 13-year-old said. “In the LRA all I was thinking about was death.  But then those thoughts disappeared. With my family around me they made me happy. I stopped thinking about death.”

Her mother’s joy overflowed. She spoke of all the dreams she had for her daughter’s future.

But as the days passed Mary came to realise that the girl who had come home was not the same child as the one abducted by the LRA two years earlier.  Hope had changed. From time to time she becomes very withdrawn. She has bursts of anger. Mood fluctuations are commonplace.

Her mother now realises how unprepared she was for how difficult it would be for her daughter to reintegrate back into village life after more than a year of violence and terror at the hands of the LRA.

Unicef’s specialist psycho-social workers found that all the suffering the girl has been through repeatedly resurfaces into her consciousness, even though she is back home. Hope has survived the violence and brutality that she was forced to endure by becoming a different person, and now the challenge is to help her reverse that process.

Unicef provides transit centres from South Sudan to Central African Republic in which former child soldiers can be cared for after their release. At these centres the long process of healing psychological scars begins. But it takes work on both sides, and time. And as the case of Hope shows, the work is not always over after the children have been reunited with their families. The process can take months, and even years.


Unicef relies entirely on voluntary donations for all its work with child soldiers. Please support the Independent’s Christmas appeal to help this vital work by going to or calling 0800 037 9797



£62 provides vocational training for a child released from an armed group.

£150 pays for psychological support for one rescued child – including individual and group therapy.

£516 will provide food, rehabilitation, counselling, education, vocational training  and the costs for family reunification for one child

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