Imagine if the forest could talk. If the trees could give testimony to what they have seen, we might fall silent. This forest has grown-up under the vast blue African sky, been sustained by the heavy seasons of rain, and survived the heat of the scorching sun. As the trees grew, children played in their branches and the weary found rest in their shade.
But twenty years ago the story of this place began to change. As the conflict in northern Uganda reached its violent peak, this forest’s story became one of survival; bearing witness to the pain of the Acholi people. It stood tall during the nights when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) roamed through it, creeping their way towards town to wage their violent political campaigns and abductions. On occasion, it provided a hiding place for the rebels to rest and regroup.
The forest sits next to St. Mary’s Lacor Hospital. During the height of the conflict the hospital was one of the largest “night-commuter centers” with tens of thousands of youth gathering every evening to seek refuge. On their way, they passed through the shade of the forest but no longer to play in its branches or find rest. Instead they walked fearfully, rushing to try to make it safely to the hospital in hopes of escaping the dangers that came with the night. If they didn’t walk they could be abducted by the LRA, forced to join its ranks and lose any fragmented piece of childhood that remained.
So they walked. And the forest witnessed every devastating moment.
As a form of peace has now come to Acholiland, the children continue to commute through the forest, but not seeking safety. They commute to school, to fetch water and maybe even to climb some of the forest’s branches again. Now this ground stands as a place for hope, healing and peace.
With The Recreation Project, youth that were once forced to walk will now have the opportunity to play, to run and even fly! The same soil that unwillingly harbored the LRA is becoming a place where students will learn valuable life skills in a safe and unique environment. A zip-line, challenge course, climbing wall and leap-of-faith will provide opportunities to soar to new heights. And intentional healing spaces, such as a tree house for processing the day’s events and an amphitheater to reignite traditional music and dance will give the Ugandan community a place to mend broken childhoods and restore hope for a war-torn people.