Post War Returnees work for $1.00 a day

Former child soldier escaped Lord’s Resistance Army to quarry rock for less than $US1 a day

“I ran some distance, the blood was flowing,” says Charles Adoke, who fled the Lord’s Resistance Army in which he was a child soldier. (ABC News: Alexandra Fisher)Former Lord’s Resistance Army child soldier Charles Adoke working in Kireka stone quarry. (ABC News: Alexandra FisherA Kireka stone quarry in the Acholi districtQuarry workers labour from dawn to dusk with no protection to earn less than US$1 a day. (ABC News: Alexandra Fisher)

Houses built on the edge of a Kireka stone quarry in Acholi Quarter in Kampala. (ABC News:Fisher Alexandra )

PHOTO: “I ran some distance, the blood was flowing,” says Charles Adoke, who fled the Lord’s Resistance Army in which he was a child soldier.(ABC News: Alexandra Fisher)

Former child soldiers are among thousands of Ugandans forced to risk life and limb quarrying stone in the capital Kampala for less than $US1 per day.

Charles Adoke is one of them. Abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to serve as a child soldier, he escaped back to his village during a gun battle between the rebels and the Ugandan army and witnessed his family being burned to death.

“They hit me here with a bullet on my leg … I ran not knowing I was shot,” he said.

I’m crushing the gravel and if I get the money I sometimes give it to my mum and I try to save for my education.

Ben, 7-year-old quarry worker

“I ran some distance. The blood was flowing.”

Mr Adoke is among thousands of workers whose lives have been shattered by one of Africa’s bloodiest wars in northern Uganda.

More than 11,000 Acholi people from northern Uganda fled to Kampala over the two decades the LRA rebels terrorised their homeland.

They made new lives in makeshift dwellings, a slum today known as Acholi Quarter.

The slum’s quarries are one of the main sources of income for those internally displaced by the conflict.

Working in a Kireka stone quarry in Acholi, Mr Adoke is haunted by the memory of LRA rebels locking his mother and sister inside their hut and setting the village on fire.

“They couldn’t even come out and my mother by then was not even actually energetic enough to break [out of] the house,” he said.

“They were just burned inside the house.”

The fear of death still looms every day for Mr Adoke, who says falling rocks often crush workers.

“Recently one of my friends was covered with the stone here,” he said.

“The stone hit him then we couldn’t get him quickly so by the time we removed him, he died immediately. So we removed him as a dead body.”

‘I want to study. I have no money. I have no dad.’

Seven-year-old Ben wields his hammer with both hands, his fingers covered in white dust, his forehead in beads of sweat.

Dozens of children labour in the quarries, facing another day in the pressing heat to help feed their families.

“I want to study. I have no money, I have no dad,” Ben said.

“I’m crushing the gravel and if I get the money I sometimes give it to my mum and I try to save for my education.”

Local NGO, I Live Again Uganda, estimates that 80 per cent of the displaced Acholi people have worked in the quarry at some point.

“We have people who are former child soldiers, we have people who have seen their children killed, and we have other people who have seen their family and community members abducted,” director Benson Ocen said.

“They don’t feel any good, but that’s the only option they have. They have to do work that’s more hand-to-mouth because that’s the way they’re living.”

Children of the Acholi QuarterPHOTO: Local NGO I Live Again Uganda says many children born in the Acholi Quarter are disconnected from their homeland’s culture (ABC News: Alexandra Fisher)

Workers maintain hope despite grim conditions

I Live Again Uganda provides trauma counselling, job and education training and helps resettle families that want to return to their village in northern Uganda.

Mr Ocen said the quarry’s poor conditions affected many workers, who earned less than a dollar a day.

“They have no gloves, no helmet. They just go there in their bare hands as they break the stone. We have clients who have lost their hands,” he said.

“They cough because they inhaled this dust. They have no protection that covers their mouth.”

But despite their crushing prospects, many believe they will one day make it home.

“My calling is to be an engineer because I have liked mathematics since I was a young person,” Mr Adoke said.

“Also the calling of the Lord is also in my heart … because when you believe in the Lord anything will be possible.”

Millet beer bar in the Acholi quarterPHOTO: At a local bar inside the Acholi Quarter people drink homebrewed millet beer from long reusable straws.(ABC News: Alexandra Fisher)

Alexandra Fisher was a 2015 fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Africa Great Lakes Reporting Initiative.

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