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Angelina Atyam of Uganda displays a list of abducted children. Matthew Lester

Angelina Atyam of Uganda displays a list of abducted children. Matthew Lester

Supporters' generosity funds East Africa peace work

July 25, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is using the generous gifts of its supporters to meet needs throughout the world, including peace-building projects in Sudan and Uganda.

Donations that exceeded projections have enabled a $7.2-million plan initiated in 2006 for special projects over three to five years.

MCC service worker Gena Sheller of West Alexander, Pa., is coordinator for justice and peace in the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek, a town in southern Sudan. Sheller works with the churches’ lay leaders, who often also are community leaders, as they wrestle with issues and explore how their faith leads them to respond. She finds peace and justice resources and plans for trainings.

In this difficult work, she says she finds joy by talking with people. "Even community leaders cannot contribute fully to the healing of their communities until they themselves heal. Often I just ask questions that will help them to dig deeper and think from another angle. All these small conversations can seem insignificant, but I hope encouraging one person will lead to that person lifting up another."

MCC’s peace-building work in East Africa also includes partnership with Concerned Parents Association (CPA) in Uganda. MCC workers Ben and Holly Porter of Denver, Colo., serve with CPA, Ben as a technical adviser to a program for trainers in trauma recovery strategies and Holly in communitywide reconciliation activities.

In October 1996, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacked St. Mary's Aboke boarding school, abducting 139 girls. A nun followed the soldiers and pleaded for the girls' release. The soldiers agreed to release 109 girls but kept 30 as prisoners.

Their parents decided to work together to try to free their daughters and formed CPA. And they quickly realized that they were not alone – the LRA was abducting children throughout northern Uganda.

"We wanted to get out of our pain in a positive way and help others get out of their pain," recalls Angelina Atyam, chair of CPA and the mother of a then-14-year-old girl who was abducted from St. Mary's Aboke. Twenty-four of the 30 girls from St. Mary's Aboke have escaped, including Atyam's daughter. Four have died, and two are believed to still be with the LRA.

CPA started a reception center for children who escape the LRA and organized a network of support groups for parents of abducted children. The organization helped to document more than 24,000 child abductions in northern Uganda and bring international attention to these atrocities.

International Program Department Director Ron Flaming explains that the overall $7.2-million plan covers work not only in Sudan and Uganda, but also in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Palestine, Paraguay and other countries. In addition, the plan includes administrative initiatives that are helping build MCC’s ongoing mission.

"We have these funds partly due to the recent strength of the Canadian dollar, and also because income has exceeded projections in the past two to three years," Flaming says.

"The needs around the world are enormous and, in fact, increases have been offset in part by the weak dollar abroad," Flaming says. "All the funds are allocated. This situation has provided a mechanism to respond to some special needs faithfully and creatively."