My name is Thomas Otim, a Ugandan by nationality and an Acholi by tribe. I was born in captivity during the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) civil war which took place in northern Uganda for a period of 25 years.
My mother, Irene Aloyo, who was abducted in the year 1994, was forcefully raped by the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army during the abduction of innocent people from different villages. She gave birth to me from captivity in Sudan at the age of 14 years, then later on, she was militarily trained to become a soldier. I was also trained as a child soldier at the age of 5 years old in Sudan. I was trained in how to abduct people and loot goods from various places.
While in the bush (captivity), I faced many challenges which include the following. I was forced to kill innocent people of which I did and I can’t recall the number of whom I killed. Forcefully, I was also made to carry heavy loads such as guns and foodstuffs from one place to another. It’s also important to know that I was forced to eat dead human beings, simply because if I failed to do so, I would have died. The only solution was to eat the dead body. I also had challenges of food (famine), nothing was in plenty to be eaten, so at times I could only eat certain weeds which are poisonous and non-poisonous and this greatly affected my health and even though I could eat weeds to make me survive, this was once or twice a week due to inadequate food. I had terrible moments of movement from one place to another. For example, I might walk over 100km a day which gave me hard times in captivity.
During the dry season, drought was a major problem to everyone in captivity where people were tormented and seriously tortured. It was so painful and the only solution to drought was to drink another man’s urine in order to sustain life for another day. During this hard time many people died. In addition to that, I never felt the love of my Dad since he was ever busy commanding at the battlefield. This made me start living with a single parent, my mother. I recall at one point I was separated from my mother when I was six years old for a period of one week but luckily I met her again at the slope of mountain Himatong in Sudan and I was so happy to see her again. This situation prompted my mother to plan our escape from captivity.
THE ESCAPE FROM THE CAPTIVITY
The time came after I was reunited with my mother. That week without her was such a lonely experience for me. Little did I know there was another home for me that was better than captivity. My mother had a plan to escape the land of torture. We started a faithful journey from Sudan to Uganda and on our way we met uncountable and unknown dead bodies. This really broke our hearts, knowing that we may fall victim next. Fruits from trees were our daily food and the most suitable shelter was caves and huge trees, among others. Unluckily we met a group of LRA soldiers who were coming back from Uganda with more abducted people. They carried guns, foodstuffs, and some also assisted badly injured soldiers. They saw us, even though we hid from them. We were caught and taken back to the bush. Severe and heavy punishments were given to us, such as extraordinary beatings and being forced to carry heavy loads.
We lived again for more than four months in captivity, then my mother again planned to escape and this time the attempt was successful. We used the southwestern route from Sudan to Uganda. We never met any rebels but we were caught by the Uganda People Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers knowing that we were rebels too. We were taken to a nearby barracks in Kitgum district in Uganda. Later on, we were shifted from the barracks to a Catholic mission in Pajule. From there we spent more that one week and then were handed over to Caritas Uganda, an organization which further shifted us to the World Vision Uganda, Gulu branch. We were rehabilitated there for more than three months, then my grandfather came and took us home.
On reaching home, traditional rituals were done where we were made to step on eggs while water was splashed on us. This was done because it was believed we had been through a lot during captivity and there was a need to cleanse us to become Holy like other people in the community. This was how we managed to escape and reach home.
LIFE AT HOME
Even though I was born in captivity, I thank God that by his grace I was able to come back home in spite of all that I went through. We came back home in the year 2005. After a warm welcome from family members, this never stopped them from rejecting me and my mother after being home for three weeks. Eventually, haterade, rejection, discrimination and stigmatization became the order of the day for me and my mother. The only reason they did that to us was because I am a child born of war and thought my mother should take me back to my father. However, my Dad never came back to show his home to my mother. This happened for several years where people in the community also joined in pointing fingers at me and my lovely mother, "I called her so because she never left me alone to die in captivity." I risked rejection from my own people and had nowhere to call home due to my past and being a child born in captivity with no Father.
It was in 2007 that life became so hard. Mentally, we were tortured with a discriminative and derivative attitude towards me and my mother. The only solution was to leave home and get into renting. We thought that life would change into a better one after leaving home, but it was worse after life became hopeless with nothing to eat, wear, and no money to sustain life, I was forced to join the street life for more than five years. In the streets, I had accommodation under verandas, old houses that were not being used, and culverts. I ate left overs from hotels and restaurants. My best friends were dogs on the streets. I did all this not because I wanted to but because the situation forced me to. Personally, I don’t have anywhere to belong because my Dad remained in the bush without showing me the way to our home. Therefore, I am homeless, because our culture says a child belongs to his father’s tribe, not to the mother’s. I am struggling to have a place or land of my own that I can call home. My mother never went to school and this made us promise to each other that I would study. This is the main goal that we are still fighting for up to now. In the season of Coronavirus, I faced many challenges. My house got destroyed by heavy rain and the only solution was to return back to street life. I looked for help but no one was in a position to help me. This pained me badly and I wondered why this was happening to me. It happened suddenly when I was sleeping and I narrowly escaped otherwise I would have been crushed by the house.
I went to school. It was my mother's main struggle to enable me to study since she never had the opportunity to do so herself. Through her hard work and some sponsorship from World Vision Uganda I was able to study, although I was still part-timing street life because it was the only way I could get money to feed on. While at school, I promised myself to study hard so that I wouldn't have to eat dead human being like I was forced to in captivity. It’s important to note that my sponsorship got terminated when the husband of my sponsor passed on. So, I continued street life, but my mother and I worked and I continued my studies until senior four. Then I managed to get another sponsor to fund my schooling up to senior six where it ended. I still want to fulfil my dream of studying to university level but now I have nothing to help me besides my love for education. If I could only get some one to help me join the university it would be a blessing in our family.
I have a dream that one day, if I finish my studies, I will be able to advocate for the many other children who were born in captivity, and whose rights are being denied. I also have a dream for upgrading my studies outside Africa one day if I come across any opportunity. Since my mother didn’t go to school, my dream is to educate my younger brothers and also to have a home of our own since I have nowhere to call my home as per the situation and my background. I wish my father was here, I would have a place to own in life. In addition to the above, my background has greatly affected me in all aspects of life so my dream is to rebuild my dignity. And above all, though my background has let me down, my dream is to have a brighter future like other people and still study, even though I have no one to pay my school fees. I am believing in God for a miracle.
My story normally pains me a lot, but I have had to accept who I am. Even though my background is full of pain and misery, this never diminished my talents. I am talented at singing even though I have inadequate funds to support me in the music industry. I can play musical instruments, such as piano, keyboard, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and juzz drums, among others. It was during the Covid pandemic that I wrote my first song about Covid19 and this was really amazing. No one thought a boy born in captivity could do this. Before this, I would sing in the church. I am also a talented performer in local dance (Afro dance) and cultural dances. Even though I was affected so much in captivity, I was still able to perfom very well at school. Previously, I managed to be the best in my school at the Uganda National Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) examinations.