Taking the story of child soldiers to the stage.
Many children who are abducted and forced into combat are so scarred by their experiences that they find it impossible to talk about them.
But Soenke Weiss, a former communications manager for World Vision in Africa, discovered one who could. He turned the story of Christine Akello into a book, The Girl and the War, and then, with friend Darin Dahms, a successful play, “Butterflies of Uganda: Memories of a Child Soldier,” which has been performed in Los Angeles and Kampala, Uganda.
Soenke met Christine at World Vision’s Children of War center in Gulu, Uganda, where she had fled after escaping the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The rebels had captured and marched Christine, her elder brother, and father into southern Sudan. During the journey, rebels forced Christine to beat her father so severely that he suffered brain damage and almost died. Later, she was forced to participate in an LRA terror campaign, looting villages, killing and maiming residents, and abducting more children.
Soenke says that over several years, he developed a friendship with Christine, and she felt able to share some of her most harrowing experiences for the first time “There was a build-up of trust,” he says. “I warmed up to her, and she warmed up to me.”
Having been forced to “marry” the former LRA’s second-in-command, Christine provided insight into what made the rebel leaders tick—invaluable material for the play.
But Soenke says the main theme of the play is about reconciliation. A World Vision staff member interceded with Christine’s family to take her back. They were reluctant at first, given what she had done to her father. But eventually Christine’s mother concluded: “This is my daughter; I cannot abandon her.”
Soenke says Christine’s story illustrates that even in the direst circumstances, reconciliation can take place when there is love. “You have to learn to reconcile somehow. Otherwise how can you continue as a people—as a country—if you don’t?”
To learn more about children affected by war, visit www.worldvision.org/advocacy.