Friday, October 30, 2009


From abducted child to UN speaker: By Dr. Ian Clarke: New Vision

CHARLOTTE has become a valued member of our family over the past five years, while she has been going through school. Her mother, Angelina Atiam, is well-known as the chairperson of Concerned Parents Association and champion of the campaign for the release of the Aboke Girls by the LRA.

It was only this year that the final girl came home, after 12 long years in captivity. Charlotte was held by the LRA for eight years, during which time she was horribly beaten and also bore two children. She escaped five years ago and since then has attended secondary school in Kampala and is now a student at International Health Science University.

During her captivity, she was continually under guard and endured beatings, sexual abuse and hard labour. She was also shot at, survived Operation Iron Fist and tracked through the bush for months, but despite all this, she did not become a bitter or twisted person and is one of the most balanced people I know. She is loving, kind and unselfish; she is humble and has a remarkable degree of wisdom and insight for a person still in her mid twenties.

During the long break between A levels and university, I asked her to work in Pader Health Centre as an administrator and she demonstrated her ability to get alongside people and bring the best out in them – perhaps because of her humility, but also because she has an unerring sense of what is the right thing to do.

Because of her experience of being abducted, she received an invitation a few weeks ago to speak at the United Nations in New York, at a conference on human trafficking. She first had to get a passport and there was also an interesting moment when we thought she would not get a visa, because there was some confusion over the list and she was turned away by the guards at the American Embassy. They told her she could not wait around because they said she was a security risk! Fortunately, the mistake was rectified and a visa was issued, so she travelled with her mother to New York this week. She contacted us after she arrived, saying that the journey had been fine and she was staying in a hotel in Manhattan, beside the UN.

When the organisers went through the programme with her, she was surprised to find that she was the speaker after Ban Ki-Moon and while he had been given four minutes, she was to speak for eight minutes.

We had heard her speech before she left and found it very moving – as she described without emotion, how she had been taken, some of her experiences in captivity and how she escaped.

What is so poignant when Charlotte speaks is the matter-of-fact way she describes her ordeal. If one does not really engage with Charlotte, one will take her as just another young Ugandan girl, but when she speaks in her quiet manner and looks directly into your eyes, then you see her inner strength of character. You see a deep person and appreciate her strength and purity of spirit. She was 14 when she was abducted, but nothing which happened to her has blemished her.

When I am with Charlotte I see, not only her outward beauty, but the inner beauty of someone who is meek and strong at the same time. I would love to have heard her speak at the UN, but I am sure as I write this, that she had a tremendous impact, just because of who she is.

Some people go through difficult experiences and become traumatised or broken. For others, such experiences make them stronger; this young girl is one such person.

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