An elderly, formerly displaced lady who returned to her village and now lives in this humble hut. JRS builds small houses for returnees who are extremely vulnerable. (Stella Ngumuta/JRS)
Kitgum, 22 February 2011 – Fifty formerly displaced persons were able to return home to their villages after JRS built small houses for them. 

All 50 either live with disabilities or are children and elderly people heading households and were in particular need of support. They come from four different sub-counties in Kitgum District. 

“I am really happy, I have a new house,” said Evelina who just moved back to her village. “Besides, they gave me a mattress and a goat. This has helped me a lot,” she added.

Now that peace prevails in northern Uganda after more than two decades of civil war, most of the formerly displaced have returned home to their villages. Of the previously 1.7 million persons displaced into camps, only 70,000 still remain in transit sites and another 70,000 in camps. Most of those remaining have special needs and lack the means and support to return home. 

Reaching out to the most vulnerable

“Those who remain are the most vulnerable. They are rejected and neglected and nobody responds to their needs,” explained Stephanie Brosch, JRS Project Director in Kitgum. “JRS decided to accompany and support them so that they can return home as well. They are the ones who are most in need of help,” she added. 

People who were stuck in camps for years had started moving back in 2006. In 2010 the Ugandan government officially declared the war over and urged all those who had been displaced to return home. 

This, however, was not an easy task. Most returnees lacked building materials, land-disputes had to be solved and security in the villages was not guaranteed. It was difficult to relocate school children because school buildings had been destroyed or burnt and needed to be rehabilitated and because there was no official communication from the local authorities allowing school children to return. 

“For children heading households, elderly people and persons with disabilities the challenge was even bigger,” said Ms Brosch. “Who would look after them in a remote village? Who would help them? What if the war returned once more? How and what would they start with from scratch?”

Bearing the consequences of war

Life in the camps has disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands socially, culturally and economically. “It will take time for an entire population to heal and rebuild their lives,” said Ms Brosch.

So far, the situation has remained calm and people are hopeful. “Many people appreciate JRS because for what the organisation has done and is still doing,” said Joseph, a community peer counsellor. 

Until 2006, northern Uganda went through two decades of conflict, as Ugandan government forces fought the LRA. The rebels waged a brutal war, abducting boys and girls to fight for them or serve as sex slaves, and killing or mutilating those who resisted. Ninety percent of the population was displaced into camps.

JRS has been present in Kitgum District since 2006, accompanying the IDP community throughout the whole return process, providing vocational and skills training, training community volunteers in counselling and peace building and promoting a dialogue of culture between the youth and the elders.

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