Fighting for life
27-year-old *Miriam is mum to six children. At 10-years old she was thrown into an ugly world of war, rape, abuse and attack. For her, having a childhood was never an option.
In her own words she tells us about her fight for life – an unbelievable tale of courage, survival and finally, with our help, finding hope.
Photo: Miriam, 27
This is Miriam's story:
I lived in a comfortable village with my parents and siblings, in Uganda. One evening we were outside dancing and suddenly bright lights appeared and surrounded us.
What happened next is all a blur to me; I was taken away, alongside many of my friends. We were dragged through the bush by soldiers with big guns and emotionless faces.
We walked for days until we arrived at a training camp. I didn’t know it would become my home for the next two years. I was only ten.
Conscripted into a rebel army at 10
Conscripted into a rebel army Miriam and children from her village were taken to South Sudan where they were given guns and knives and told to fight.
With little access to food or water trying to survive in the bush was as deadly as the fighting.
We barely had any food or water, so we drank each other’s urine. This is how we survived.
After two years of fighting, I started working as a babysitter for the Army commander. I never had to return to fighting.
Mother at 13
Relief that she would never have to fight again was short lived. One battle was being exchanged for another. At 10 she was robbed of her freedom, at thirteen she would be robbed of her virginity.
‘I was 13 when he forced himself upon me for the first time, “You have to be my wife,” he told me, but I didn’t know what that meant. I learned fast.
He was an older man who already had five other wives. It was humiliating; the pain captured my whole body and ripped me apart. I tried to fight back with all my strength but he told me to be quiet, otherwise he would shoot me. I felt the cold of the gun against my head, the barrel touching my skin. That’s how I became the commander’s wife.
The second time he raped me I remained quiet, with tears rolling down my face. It was either carrying on or dying.
A decade of abuse, and six children later she managed to escape her captor and tried to return home. ‘I grew up in Uganda, but spent all my years of captivity in South Sudan. After I gave birth to my six children, I was finally able to flee. We escaped to Juba and eventually went back to Uganda, my home country. Everything had changed. ‘I found out my father had passed away and my mother was critically ill. I tried to stay with my family but they resented my children and me.’
Attacked by her own family
The perfect village life that Miriam remembered as a child, a place she felt safe, had now changed drastically. Her brothers were convinced that her children, being born in rebel territory, would become rebels and would bring trouble to the family.
One night during one of our Ugandan holidays, my two brothers attacked me with axes and knives. They sliced my belly, cut my leg and cut off my hand. I don’t know how I survived.
Fearing for her life, and the lives of her children, Miriam was forced to move to a different town in Uganda, the place she now calls home.
As a young mother, with no family, in a new city Miriam has struggled to provide for her children. ‘Until a few days ago we lived in a chicken coop because we couldn’t afford a house. My children became very ill, I had no choice but to move somewhere else, even though I can’t afford it.’ Despite being free from her physical captivity Miriam still battles for life every day. Like any mother she worries for her children, how she will provide for them and their futures.
Life is hard. I often think I don’t want to be alive anymore, but what would my children do without me? Their life is in danger, but I don’t want them to know. Our lives aren’t easy. My children have nothing. I have no money to send them to school and with my disability; I need them to help me around the house.
But in the rawness of her story she has found hope; hope she has gained from encountering us. ‘I finally met World Vision workers five days ago, and I am starting to have a little hope. They are now helping me process through my past experiences.’
Families like Miriam and her children are grateful for your support. Children are still being abducted, used for war, robbed of their innocence and subjected to atrocities no one should endure. You are providing emotional support and training for many women like Miriam. Helping them to process their past experiences so that they can face their futures with new hope and confidence.
We can’t erase Miriam’s past but together we can help to change her future, and the future of her children. There are many more families in need of our support and together we will continue to reach more children living in the world’s hardest places.
*Names have been changed to protect personal identity.
HOW WE HELP
Raw Hope is about protecting children in the most treacherous places on earth. Known as ‘fragile contexts’, these are areas where a government cannot or will not act on its responsibility to protect the human rights of its population.
These areas also experience unacceptably high maternal and child mortality rates, and other dangers. These include harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and early marriage; widespread child exploitation, such as rape and child trafficking; recruitment as child soldiers, or as child prostitutes.
They're also far more likely to be affected by disease and malnutrition, caused by poor hygiene, limited access to water and nutritious food.
Together, through Raw Hope, we can protect vulnerable children by offering lifesaving support and care, rehabilitation and stability in the volatile areas they live in.
By donating to Raw Hope, you will help give children like Basma a chance to thrive. We work with local communities to rehabilitate children who have experienced conflict and to protect children in danger. Your support will offer them long-term hope and the opportunity to be a child again.
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Child Soldiers - Nuang's Story
When Nuang* was 15 years old, he was tricked into joining the Myanmar Army. He remembers:
My dad decided to send me into the army. At that time, I played football a lot and I was a midfielder of our neighbourhood’s football team. The sergeant told me that there’s a football team in the army and I could be a professional football player if I tried hard. And I was told that I only had to stay there for four and half months.
At the recruitment unit, I had to get up early for physical exercises and training went on until 9pm. I missed home so much. The training was very tough and tiring. The food was really bad too – there was sand in the rice so it’s hard to eat. I was sent to serve with a battalion. I never got a chance to play football.
- Nuang, 15
Photo: Nuang, 15
Nuang was sent to fight, in another part of Myanmar. As well as fighting, children are used for many other reasons in armies including cooking, spying, carrying messages, as suicide bombers and for sexual slavery. They witness killing, mutilation and rape, often being forced to take part to prove their loyalty. It leaves them with profound psychological problems.
A year later, the Myanmar Government signed an agreement with the UN, committing to end child recruitment. Nuang explained, “I was told I would be released from the army as I was recruited as a minor. I was really happy to know that I could go home.
“I’m now playing football again with my friends. I’m also sharing my experiences in the army with my friends. And I’m raising awareness to help keep other children safe from being recruited.
“I tell parents not to send their children to the army before they are 18, as we have to do things which are wrong for children to take part in. And I want to tell the youths who have a bad relationship with their families or who don’t have a place to stay: it’s better to find other ways to earn your living rather than joining the army as children. I tell my friends who are still in the army that it’s their right to leave as they were recruited as minors and I helped them to contact World Vision.
“I would like to ask you to raise awareness among the general public and also in the army, so that the army officers become aware that under-age recruitment is illegal and the ones who were recruited as minors will be released.”
* We’ve changed his name to protect his identity.
In the aftermath of conflict and disaster, World Vision is there, helping to rebuild children’s lives.
As a supporter of Raw Hope you receive regular communications with on-the-ground footage and stories from the countries we’re working in – so you can see how your money is helping to save and protect the world’s most vulnerable children.
Watch Sara's story: the latest update video update from the Syria region below
These are areas that foreign policy refers to as ‘fragile contexts’ – where a government cannot, or will not, act on its responsibility to protect the rights of its population. Issues affecting these areas include malnutrition and disease, high maternal and child mortality. Harmful traditional practices – such as early marriage and female genital mutilation – exist here too, as does exploitation, trafficking, child prostitution and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Raw Hope works in the most fragile areas of the world, where other funds are unable to reach, in order to provide protection for children and a chance of survival for the young people who live there. These children face significant and immediate danger every single day, with their lives continually at risk from physical abuse and harm, exploitation and general immediate threat from their environment.
Raw Hope funds allow World Vision to respond to urgent need, providing aid and security for children in the most volatile areas. This includes everything from minimising the risk of rape and murder of children travelling to water supplies to helping to give children a voice through Child Parliaments.
Raw Hope works in the world’s most dangerous places where it is extremely difficult and inefficient to set up programmes such as child sponsorship. Before Raw Hope, World Vision had to rely on unreliable sources of funding which prevented the provision of substantial support to those areas most in need.
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