When asked about her life before that war (there have been several in Uganda), Grace’s face lights up. She was a runner in school and had the honour of representing her sub-county at the District level in the 400m and short relay races. She loved running.
Her parents were vegetable farmers who occasionally planted small amounts of tobacco, a cash crop, for extra income. It wasn’t an easy life – amongst multiple other elements, Idi Amin was in control of Uganda at the time – but Grace remembers being happy. Then there was the day that changed.
When she was 14 years old rebels locked her and her 7 siblings in a hut and set it on fire. Five of them escaped by breaking down a wall. The others, including her parents and grandmother who had been murdered by the rebels immediately prior to the fire, did not. It was Northern Uganda in the early 1980s and it was no place for children.
Grace and her surviving siblings went to live with her uncle and her other grandmother; unfortunately shortly after they arrived, her grandmother died from a snake bite. Grace decided it was time to get married for the soul reason of needing additional support. She was 17 years old. Her uncle helped her to find a husband and they went on to have four children, two boys and two girls. They were vegetable farmers, like her parents had been, until the ongoing conflict forced them to move to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Grace’s husband passed away in 2008 and her in-laws refused her inheritance rights to the land her husband had owned, a common situation for widows in Uganda. With no land and no permanent home, Grace still lives in the IDP camp, one of the last remaining residents, with her four children and, now, three grandchildren. Unfortunately, the camp is closing and they are being evicted. With nowhere to go and no land to farm, Grace doesn’t know what to do.
What is striking about Grace, despite all of this, is how much she smiles and laughs. Her children and grandchildren are an immense source of joy. So is her volunteering. She regularly spends time volunteering for War Child Canada, helping to educate other women on their rights and how they can access justice. She sees War Child as a consolation for her own issues and loves helping other women access the justice that has essentially eluded her.
While she doesn’t know what the future holds, she knows what she would like to see. “Age is catching up with me. I can’t farm as I used to and there is no money for them to study,” she says, “but I would love to see my grandchildren enjoy their childhood.”