My precious, precocious boy is 8. Watching him chase fireflies and learn to ride a two-wheeler, it is hard to picture him with a submachine gun, shooting the neighbors. But that is the horrific story told today by Ricky Anywar, Founder and Executive Director of Friends of Orphans (FRO) in Uganda. Boys as young as eight, stripped from their homes by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to commit atrocities in their own communities. Afterward, they are often ostracized by the community, meaning they have nowhere to turn should they try to escape.
Ricky was one of these child soldiers, 14 when he was taken. His brother escaped once, only to commit suicide when he realized his parents had been killed and he had nowhere to turn. Ricky escaped and was brought back by the LRA, then escaped again. Thanks to a kind and strong woman who took him in, and a clear sense of what he did and did not want to do with his life, Ricky not only made it out finally, he finished school, got a job, and then chucked it all so that he could go back to northern Uganda—this time to help rescue and rehabilitate boys, give them hope, livelihood, and a safe place to re-create community.
These days Ricky is welcomed and lauded, rightfully so, having received the 2008 Harriet Tubman Freedom Award and the 2008 Humanitarian Award from World of Children for his work with former child soldiers. As an alumnus of IREX’s Community Solutions Program, he was honored today for his work as part of IREX’s Founder’s Day celebrations. His story is a moving reminder of the huge challenges facing countries in conflict and how very grateful we should be where boys can run free and chase fireflies.