Geoffrey Omony from Gulu, Uganda, is a Goldin Institute Global Associate who serves as Executive Director of Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development (YOLRED), the first organization in Uganda designed and run by former child soldiers. Geoffrey was abducted from his home village in April 1995 and was held for more than one year before he escaped. He returned home to find his family and community destroyed while former child soldiers were often blocked from education, employment or social services because of suspicion and stigma. Nevertheless, with the help of the Goldin Institute, Arigatou International and many local organizations, Geoffrey was able to advance his education and conduct research into the experiences of former child combatants. Geoffrey and 3 other ex-combatants formed YOLRED in 2016, and since then have provided services, held multiple events including music therapy and community parliaments, participated in international conferences, and received global media attention.
I was abducted in April 1995 from a village now called Onyomtil in anaka sub-county Nwoya district. I remained in captivity for a period of one year. I managed to escape from captivity in May 1996. Iwas then taken to Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO) centre for psychosocial support and rehabilitation.
I always find it very hard to share with people what happened during this time in the captivity because it brings all the sad memories back. It has been difficult for me to feel comfortable in my community as a formerly abducted person because of stigmatization. Like other former abductees, it has been a struggle to access to formal education or have access to housing.
Despite all the above, I had a chance to go back to school with the help of many people and programs from around the world. During one of my breaks from school due to lack of funds, I started a local organizaiton called the Lurem for Progress Youth Association to allow my fellow former abductees to have a common way of sharing our problems.
Along with my fellow former abductees, we formed YOLRED, the Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development. This is the first and only organization in Uganda designed, founded and run by former child soldiers. This organization was made possible by the training and support of the Goldin Institute and partners like the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) and the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC). As a leader of the organization, I will ensure that our problems are accessed locally and solutions implemented locally.