Ugandan Sister discusses conflict

Daina Amorosano

Sister Pauline Acayo shared her firsthand accounts of escape from rebel abduction in Northern Uganda and offered a general update on the conflict there in an event in Connelly Center on Oct. 7.

Acayo oversees the peacebuilding projects of Catholic Relief Services in Uganda, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, and described the fighting’s impact on the local communities and CRS’ efforts to promote peace in the region.

These efforts include reconciliation ceremonies for adults and children returning from abduction, mediation among varying ethnic groups, establishment of peace groups and workshops to improve communities’ conflict resolution skills.

Acayo is an internationally acknowledged peacebuilding officer who has received recognition and acclaim for her commitment to peace and justice. Most recently, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice in San Diego selected Acayo as one of the Women Peacemakers of the Year. She is also a 2006 recipient of a certificate of recognition for her peacebuilding work from the New York-based Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

With experience as a speaker at countless seminars, workshops and conferences in Africa and the United States, combined with her personal experiences, Acayo conveyed with straightforward and candid detail the horrors that face millions of Ugandans every day and have faced them for the past two decades.After 20 years, the country continues to be torn apart by the violent rebel insurgency the Lord’s Resistance Army, which began to target the Ugandan government in an armed rebellion in 1986. The group has perpetrated various atrocities, including killing, torturing, mutilating and kidnapping innocent civilians. Since 1986, insurgents hide in shrubbery and abduct victims, traumatizing them physically and mentally and often cutting off limbs, ears and noses.

Acayo herself narrowly escaped abduction twice, after she was specifically targeted. For more than 2 million other Ugandans, Acayo’s experience is their reality. These people have been forced to move into humanitarian camps. Acayo explained how abductees become indoctrinated into this reign of terror and many grow up in rebel captivity. Their return to society creates another conflict in itself, as many of these abductees have committed atrocities themselves.

As part of their peacebuilding efforts, CRS and Acayo work to integrate these released abductees back into society by encouraging them to talk and ask for public forgiveness. CRS also works to provide water and sanitation, prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, support Ugandans’ subsistence agriculture and improve many Ugandans’ economic standing through privately funded initiatives.

After Acayo shared her knowledge and experiences, there was a question/answer forum. Acayo told the audience that they could make their contribution by informing themselves and others, advocating peacebuilding and donating.

“The little we do, slowly by slowly, will make the whole world peaceful,” she said.

The Villanova partnership with CRS and STAND, an anti-genoicde coalition, sponsored the event, which was organized by Dr. Suzanne Toton of the theology department. Toton is the coordinator of the Villanova-CRS partnership.