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Former Ugandan child soldier and founder and executive director of Friends of Orphans Ricky Richard Anywar meets with Clarkson University students in Uganda. (photo: Clarkson University)
Former Ugandan child soldier and founder and executive director of Friends of Orphans Ricky Richard Anywar meets with Clarkson University students in Uganda. (photo: Clarkson University)

Moving the world: from child soldier to community servant

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In our occasional series, Moving the World, we meet people who share their skills, expertise and resources with communities around the globe. Ricky Richard Anywar has survived his share of trouble. At 14, he was abducted by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and forced into slavery as a child soldier. His family was killed by the LRA. But Anywar escaped two years later. Despite what he calls an "interrupted childhood," he earned a college degree. That led to work with the Ugandan Ministry of Education. For more than 10 years he has worked to give back to his native Uganda by empowering and reintegrating former child soldiers.

Anywar is founder and executive director of "Friends of Orphans," or FRO, which pays the school fees for former child soldiers and young mothers. It runs vocational programs, counseling groups, and HIV/AIDS clinics. Clarkson University is working with FRO to help establish a community-based radio station. A group of Clarkson business students visited Uganda and the site for the proposed radio station in May.

Todd Moe spoke with Ricky Richard Anywar last week during his visit to Clarkson. He was on campus to speak to students and faculty about rebuilding war-ravaged northern Uganda.

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Todd Moe
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“What I’m doing is rehabilitation, reintegration and empowerment of this kind of people who have gone through a lot. They have lost confidence in them, they have lost hope in life,” said Ricky Richard Anywar. “But I work hard to bring hope in them and to build back confidence in them and set them back on their feet. I know that these children have wounds in their hearts and in their minds, which needed to be washed and cleaned through rehabilitation. And that is what I have come to do.”

Anywar is the  founder and executive director of “Friends of Orphans,” or FRO, in Northern Uganda and has received many awards for his work. These include the Harriet Tubman Freedom Award from Free the Slaves, and the Humanitarian Award from World of Children.

Anywar says that the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, has left those affected by it bitter, and he wants to help shape their future.  By addressing the challenges and realities of life, Anywar hopes to enable these children to live without discrimination and abuse, and without feeling that they are not part of this world.

“I know that these children, our children, were only forcefully abducted from us and they have money to come back with their lives. They have problems, and we should look at ways of helping these children overcome their problems rather than looking at them as criminals because they did what they have done because they were forced to do so. They are our children,” said Anywar. This is the message that he is trying to convey to the community. He hopes that education about child soldiers will help communities to accept them. According to Anywar, it’s been working out so far.

“After rehabilitation, after empowerment, I take them to the community, and the community is accepting them. I know that these children would walk a life of dignity if we don’t treat them as an object, well as a subject, that they have problems, and let’s join hands to solve this problem rather than exploiting them, rejecting them, abusing them, discriminating against them,” said Anywar.

Anywar grew up in Northern Uganda and says that his childhood was not a very happy one. His experiences have contributed to his desire to help child soldiers now. He was abducted at the age of 14 and taken to the bush with his brother; the rest of his family was killed by the LRA. Anywar and his brother stayed with the LRA for two and a half years.

“As any other former child soldiers in Northern Uganda, because when they escape, they either run mad or commit suicide. A few of them get the resilience, like I got, to get rehabilitated and to get out of the problem you’ve been into,” explained Anywar. His brother escaped before Anywar did, and committed suicide.

Anywar said, “I was left an orphan, homeless and destitute, at the same time a slave since I had to work for food so that I could survive in my home village, my home country. That is what LRA did to me. But I’m coming out loud and clear without shame to tell the world what these children have gone through and they are going through, and how best we can help them.”

Anywar is currently involved in a big project with the community. The goal of the project is to examine possibilities of rehabilitating Northern Uganda. The violent war is now over, and the country is currently in the process of rebuilding.

“One problem we have is ignorance and illiteracy because we don’t have information. There’s no source of information out there. People don’t know how to read and write, so they cannot get newspapers to read. It’s not a source of information,” said Anywar. He added that most people don’t have televisions since there is no source of power for them. The only real source of information that is accessible to the communities is radio.

People can use the radio to interact and send messages. Anywar said, “It will create awareness and will connect the world to the North, and the North to the world. I’m so sad to say this, that the Kony 2012 video has gone viral and everybody knows about it, but the affected people don’t know about it!”

Anywar sees this isolation from world media as a problem that radio will help fix. He said, “Through the radio station, it will be able to do a lot of things. First of all, the community has been in war for over 21 years. This community has been helped by other communities.”

This has created a system of dependency, and the communities would rather rely on others than do the work themselves says Anywar. However, he thinks that the communities should be more independent. “I’ve seen one thing: the land is very fertile, we have a lot of land, it has not been used for a long time,” said Anywar. “We have the people who are sitting idle; they have the time, they have the energy.”

Anywar hopes to mobilize the community and link them to agriculture. This way, they will be able to till and utilize the land for their own benefit. Not only will they be able to grow subsistence crops, but also they will have the opportunity to grow enough produce to sell and profit from. Anywar says that this money can be used to pay school fees and medical bills, without being reliant on outside aid.

“This radio station will work on that very, very well. And secondly, we have been at war. People are traumatized. People have seen their loved ones be killed, abducted and all that,” said Anywar. “So we use this radio station for counseling. And this radio station will be right in the community. It’s accessible to everybody within the community; they can pass information through it, they can receive information through this radio station.”

The community has also been suffering from outbreaks of Nodding Disease. Anywar says that no one knows why this sickness has been attacking people, or how it’s transmitted from one person to the next. “We would use the radio station to create awareness,” he said. The station could communicate which health centers people can go to for treatment.

“So this is what we would like to use the radio station for. We now share water with animals; we don’t have clean water. We can tell and educate people how to filter this water, how to use it properly. So the radio station will cut across a lot of development in Northern Uganda, and this is what we are looking for,” concluded Anywar.

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