FROM THE FOUNDER
Lanekatuk Memorial, Inc.
From The Founder:

Hello, my name is Hida Jessie Piersma. I am the founder of Lanekatuk Memorial, Inc. The reasons I started the foundation can be found in my memoir, "The Gnawing Thoughts."

Lanekatuk Memorial is named after my father, Augustino Lanek-Atuk, who was beaten on a roadway near his village by rebels and left to die. The organization is a memorial to him and to the people of the region who have suffered because of the twenty plus year long war that raged in northern Uganda. An example is a girl who was kidnapped by LRA leader Joseph Kony and was forced to have three children by him, of which two are still alive. She managed to escape and return to her family. She is now asking for help for herself and her children.

My father was born into the Labwor Tribe in Aswa County in the northern region of Uganda, part of what is also known as "Acholiland" within the Gulu District. This is the area in which I grew as a child.

My father would tell me many stories about our people. My Great Grandfather was a sub-chief and famous for his skill as a "War Dancer." One of the stories my father would tell me is the legend of how we became the Lion Tribe:
This is the legend as told to me by my father of how my great great grandfather bonded with a labwor and of how we became the Labwor Tribe. Labwor in the Luo language means lion, or Simba as it is said in Swahili.

Many years ago Great Great Grandfather went hunting as usual in the wild bush behind his village. At the end of the day he was returning to his hut when he ran into a labwor. Great Great Grandfather prepared to defend himself from the attack that would certainly come, but the labwor did not attack but rather came toward him wagging it's tale with its mouth wide open. Stunned and perplex Great Great Grandfather did not spear the labwor but moved closer to the labwor as the labwor moved closer to Great Great Grandfather wagging it's tale and mouth wide open. When the labwor was very close to Great Great Grandfather, Great Great Grandfather could see that there was a large bone lodged in its throat. Great Great Grandfather reached his hand into the mouth of the labwor and fumbled about until the bone came free and he pulled the bone from the labwor's mouth. The labwor was saved. The labwor suddenly lunged upon my Great Great Grandfather; giving him a great hug then spun around and looked back at Great Great Grandfather wagging its tail as if it was saying "follow me." So, Great Great Grandfather followed the labwor which lead him to a fresh kill. Great Great Grandfather took some of the meat and thanking the labwor returned to his hut.

From that time forward the labwor would return to this very same spot in the bush and would let out a loud roar. When my Great Great Grandfather would go out to the place he would find fresh meat that the labwor had left for him. My Great Great Grandfather told all the people of the tribe that they should never kill or eat a labwor because we and the labwor are bonded.

Because of this we became known as the Labwor Tribe and my grandmother would tell me that in fact the labwor would pass by our tribe's livestock and would kill those of a neighboring tribe instead, and if one of our tribe should encounter a labwor in the bush they would go untouched while those of another tribe would certainly be attacked by the beast.
Hida Jessie Piersma
Augustino Lanek-Atuk
SOURCE: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yaaaay/10142740/
A BRIEF HISTORY:

Uganda was a protectorate of the United Kingdom from 1894 until granted independence in 1962. Northern Uganda was primarily an agricultural area and home to the Acholi people, who comprised the vast majority of the Ugandan military, while southern Uganda was industrialized and the seat of the national capital in Kampala.

In 1966, Prime Minister Obote (Lango By tribe) removed President Mutesa (A Bugandan from the south) from office and assumed control of the government and appointed Idi Amin (From the west Nile) as Army Chief. During his presidency, Obote abolished provincial government and the traditional kingdoms (of which my grandfather was a sub-chief), including that of the former President Mutesa. These and other actions taken by Obote resulted in the loss of support of European leaders and of the Ugandan people, especially those from the south.

In 1971, while Obote was out of the country, Amin lead a military coup and took control of the government. Obote lived in exile as the guest of Tanzanian president Nyerere. Because of the actions of Obote and his own sectarian and ethnic believes the Acholi and Langi suffered terribly under the Amin regime. With the aid of the Tanzanian military a successful rebellion was launched and Amin was removed from power in 1979 and Obote regained the Presidency.

Citing election fraud, Yoweri Museveni united with several other resistance groups and led a rebellion against the Obote regime. Obote's UNLA force consisted of many ethnic Acholi. In 1985 Obote was successfully removed from office and Uganda was under the head of state Titto Okello Lutua. In 1986 with a military coup Museveni assumed the Presidency, of which office he still holds today.

While Museveni has brought relative stability to southern Uganda, northern Uganda and notably the Acholi people continue to suffer.

In 1987 the Lord's Resistance Army, currently lead by Joseph Kony (From Atiak, Gulu), began a rebellion with the goal of destabilizing the Ugandan government. Operating primarily in northern Uganda, the LRA waged a war of abduction and extreme brutality against the civilian population. Any Acholi thought to aid the government was attack by the LRA, anyone the government thought to aid the LRA was attacked by the government.

In 1996 the Ugandan government, in an effort to separate the civilian population from the LRA, forced the local population, many at gunpoint, to temporary safety villages. Hundreds of thousands more fled to cities in the west and south and others still fled outside the country. The temporary safety villages eventually became IDP camps, and for many, the only home they have ever known. In all it is estimated that in excess of two million people were displaced.

While the camps offered some safety, security was often lax and rebel attacks were common. As food, water, and firewood became scarce, women were forced to wander further and further from the camps and risked abduction, mutilation, or death (that was how my father got killed). Rebels often punished women caught outside the camps by cutting off their lips. Thousands of women and children were abducted, many of whom are still held captive to this day.

In the mean time, a surge of what was known as "slim disease" began near the Lake Victoria area and began spreading along Uganda's major highways. In 1982 the first confirmed case of AIDS was diagnosed in Uganda and the link between slim disease and AIDS was made. It was not until 1996, with the relative stability of Museveni's presidency, that the government was able to launch an HIV prevention program. While significant progress has been made it is estimated that over one million people have died in Uganda, a country with a population of thirty two million, due to AIDS related complications, leaving hundreds of thousands of orphans and having a devastating effect on every aspect of Ugandan life.

In 2006, assisted by the United States and other nations, the Ugandan Army successfully forced the withdrawal of the LRA from Uganda. Since then there has been relative peace in the area and the Ugandan government has ordered the closure of the refugee camps. There are some estimates that the camps will be completely closed by 2011. This, however, is not the end of the story.

UGANDA 2012:

Life in northern Uganda is in stark contrast to that in the south. Living in the south many only knew of the war by what they read in the newspapers or from broadcasts on radio and television. In the south one sees paved roads, vast green fields of tea, tobacco, and other cash crops. There are luxury home building developments and modern universities, hospitals, and good jobs for the well connected and educated.

The IDPs that fled here found themselves unwanted and unwelcome. Being not of the southern tribes and not in their homeland they face extreme prejudice and hardship. Most make barely a subsistence wage by hard labor, distilling alcohol, selling fruits, or prostitution. Unable to afford rent in the main city, many moved to slum villages. Barely able to buy food and pay the land owners, there is no money left over for school fees, so the children remain home, uneducated. Many say we are farmers, and would remain farmers were it not for the war.

The Acholi want to go home.

In the north, life is little better. Those that remember where home is return to bush and rock, all that remains of the village and the life that was left behind so many years before. With no water, food, or the tools to rebuild, it is a day to day struggle for survival. Many who were orphaned in the camps know nothing of their families nor have any idea of where home may be. Many are too old and sick to travel, and remain in the remnants of the camps as they are pressured daily by the government and the land owners to leave.

While the rebels are gone, they have been replaced by thieves and cattle rustlers. The frustration of poverty, hunger, and hardship are taking their tolls on the Acholi families as domestic violence, alcoholism, and suicide is rampant. Many cry in tears as they lament on a culture in danger of being lost as the customs handed down for centuries are dying along with the casualties of war, disease, and extreme poverty.

The Acholi want to go home.

A MEASURE OF HELP - A MEASURE OF HOPE:

I know that there is great suffering right now in America. I know there is great need right here in our villages and towns. I also know there is great suffering in many places throughout the world. Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia or Serbia, Somalia, the list goes on and on. Why then Uganda? Why the Acholi? For me the answer is simple. Their pain and suffering is real. I know this because I have felt it. I have lived it, and I escaped it. Acholi people are my people. They are my family. Their suffering gnaws at me. Finding ways to help them are my "Gnawing Thoughts."

The Acholi want to go home, please help me give them a home to go back to. You can help by buying my book, by donating to Lanekatuk Memorial, Inc., or by volunteering, but by whatever means you chose, please help.

Thank you very much, for joining me in my struggle!!

Hida Jessie Piersma

Founder and President of Lanekatuk Memorial, Inc.

A government school room in northern Uganda. While eager to learn resources are scarce. Desks and chairs are rationed. Often, the teacher has the only books or must teach from memory.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
Working in a quarry in northern Uganda. The stone is broken down and sold. Many bushels of stone must be sold to buy enough food for a single meal. Maze and beans are primary staples.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
Making temporary repairs to a home in northern Uganda. Many IDPs are returning to homes in disrepair or completely destroyed during their absence.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
A rebuilt settlement, northern Uganda.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
A government school in northern Uganda. Many districts still have no schools and officials welcome any assistance they may receive.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
A man takes shelter in a partially constructed addition in northern Uganda.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
A young man and child. Notice the can of tomatoes, most likely obtained from a relief agency. Also notice the oversized boots on the child. These boots were most likely given out by a relief agency as well. You often see people wearing these boots or sandals. Many more simply go barefoot.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
Much hard work lies ahead for this family. In addition to eking out a subsistence living, they must rebuild their home. Often, there is not enough money to pay the school "up-keep" fees for one or all of the children or they are forced to help the family raise money.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
A woman does laundry in northern Uganda. Notice the water cans. Supplying the home with water is a constant chore. If fortunate a well may be nearby. If not, a daily trip to the nearest water source must be made, and obtaining water is made even more difficult during the dry season when streams and wells may run dry.
Source: Hida Jessie Piersma May 2010.
The Legend of My Great Great Grandfather
and the Simba