Bouncing along on a northern Uganda road, it’s hard to miss the colorful students.
Parades of brightly dressed children are walking home from school. We’re north of Gulu in the heart of Acholi land.
Africa is a land of brightness. No mild colors here.
Pastels are passé here.
Every school has its uniform colors.
As the kilometers pass, we go from lavender to teal to bright red.
The children wave as we pass. They appear to have no worries or fears.
It wasn’t always so.
Gulu was in the heart of the civil war between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government.
You’ve heard the name of their leader: Joseph Kony.
The Lord’s Resistance Army. Never has a group been more misnamed.
Don’t associate the Lord with the vile and violent acts this militia carried out.
Sadly, this Acholi-populated army inflicted death and mutilation on its own people. The worst part of the LRA’s atrocities was the kidnapping of child soldiers. Rebel squads would slip into villages at night and kill, rape, and plunder. Part of their plunder was the taking of children and teens. They were brainwashed and manipulated into cold-blooded killers.
Child soldiers. What a sad oxymoron! Two words that should never appear together.
Child Soldiers—their future and innocence taken away.
The best way to avoid being kidnapped in the LRA’s nighttime raids was to leave home. During the height of the LRA mayhem, an estimated 25,000 children would pour into Gulu town nightly.
They were called Night Children. Seeking shelter wherever they could, they slept in doorways, on porches, and in homes and businesses that opened their doors.
That’s why the colorfully dressed carefree schoolchildren of today are so touching.
They are the next generation after the Night Children.
The children of the children who lived in fear.
That prior generation was robbed. This generation is living in hope.
And a big part of their and their family’s hope is built on education.
That’s why there’s such a long line of schoolchildren.
And that’s why the statue stands in the midst of Gulu town. It’s not exactlybeautiful. Closer inspection reveals that it is made of rough sheet metal.
It stands in the middle of a Gulu roundabout next to a clock. The statue’s base is plastered with ads and political signs. The median of the roundabout is unkempt.
In spite of its surroundings, the statue stands out. Two children stand behind a huge stacks of books. The books are large. We’d call them tomes or coffee-table books.
The book on top is open. The two children are reading. We can assume they are in school. They are not night children. They live in peace and freedom, and this allows them to get an education.
Education is not the answer to everything. I firmly believe spiritual matters take priority. But this doesn’t allow us to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Education lifts up a culture. It provides opportunities.
It widens a worldview. It adds colour to a person’s world—transferring a black-and-white image into the vivid colors of Africa.
May it ever be so in Gulu Town, home of the Acholi.
Joseph Kony and his LRA army wreaked havoc in Uganda, South Sudan, and Democratic Congo. The remainder of his forces are now hiding in the jungles of eastern Central African Republic (CAR).
Ugandan forces, with the aid of American soldiers, are tracking him down. Our hope is that evil leaders like him may become a thing of the past.
The Children and Book statue in Gulu is simple but fetching once you know the area’s history.