Internship Spotlight: Manouchka Guerrier

For more than two decades, the Northern region of Uganda was faced with a devastating civil war. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious rebel group, was created to avenge the constant oppression and abuse perpetuated by Museveni’s government regime on the Acholi people, the most prominent ethnic group of Northern Uganda. During this armed conflict, the LRA was known for brutal crimes and abductions inflicted on unarmed civilians. Amongst them were young women destined to become sex slaves and mothers to children born of war-time rape. Today, these children are known as children born in the LRA captivity.

Watye Ki Gen is an Acholi phrase which means We Have Hope. With this moto, this community-based organization advocates for the rights and the welfare of children born in the LRA captivity as well as their families since 2013.

As a Master level student in social work, my interest in international social work led me to focus my practice in Haiti, a country well acquainted with disasters and political instabilities. To undertake a three-month international field placement at Watye Ki Gen meant to be exposed to a different type of social work practice. In fact, this mandatory 12-credit social work-related internship would allow me to interact with local practitioners and learn about indigenous practices in a post-war context. Moreover, conducting my field placement in Northern Uganda would inform my understanding and analysis for the development of my individual study project. This research paper aimed to answer this very question: What do reconciliation and repair look like for children born in captivity in a post-war context? In this context, I was privileged to be guided and supervised by Dr Myriam Denov, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Youth, Gender and Armed Conflict (Tier 1).

My field placement responsibilities included community sensitization meetings, follow up in schools and vocational institutions on registered CBC, family tracing and family reunification, group work with formerly abducted women, grant writing, representation at workshops and round tables with various organizations and governmental representatives. Those crucial and relevant interventions continued to inform my understanding of the various interests, influences and perspectives held by numerous stakeholders involved in the long terms well-being of children born in captivity. I was particularly compelled by the cultural component of belonging and acceptance for the CBC. In the Acholi tradition, family lineage is crucial for one’s development and life possibilities. Consequently, witnessing the process of family reunification between several children born in captivity and their paternal families highlighted opportunities for reconciliation. For instance, one family reunification featured a formerly abducted man searching for his child, a CBC. This case was exceptional. On the other hand, profound resistance and rejection can also be encountered. Those interactions continued to highlight the ongoing challenges of CBCs and their families in a post-war era.

Working with Watye Ki Gen has provided a unique training experience in the field of post-war intervention with vulnerable populations and shed light on the invisibility of their current realities. Through programs such as empowerment through financial loans to formerly abducted mothers, family tracing and reunification, school sponsorships and reintegration project (land), Watye Ki Gen pursues its mission to advocate for the successful reintegration and long-term well-being of children born in captivity.

I have learned that advocacy can not be dissociated from the work of Watye Ki Gen. Indeed, the cumulative damages of war and the challenging realities of the CBC’s reintegration require a systematic response from civil society, organizations and governments. Through an in-depth understanding of the Acholi culture and traditions, this organization and its constituents continue, tirelessly, to raise awareness of the plight of the CBC and their families. It recognizes that: “collective recovery is a creative and emergent process, its content and form and constructed over time through cycle of action, reflection and narration (Saul, 2007, p.2)”. Therefore, as a western social work practitioner, I realized the importance to bestow much more attention to indigenous organizing and practices to inform international social work. Moreover, I am more aware of collaborative possibilities to keep the realities of CBC known at the local, national and international level.

This exceptional field placement opportunity would not have been possible without the contribution of Richard, Joel, and Norman King and their families through The Hinda Ordower King Awards of Merit. This financial support covered the numerous expenses related to travelling and living in Uganda for the duration of my internship.

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