Day 6

Why two women abducted as children by the LRA in Uganda are telling their stories through clothes

Grace Acan and Evelyn Amony were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda when they were girls. Their personal belongings are now a part of an exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

A skirt and a sweater are among the items on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Evelyn Amony (left) and Grace Acan were abducted by the LRA in Uganda when they were just girls. Their stories are a part of a new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Submitted by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

A sweater, a dress, books and letters are part of a new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. 

The exhibit, called Ododo Wa, centres the experiences of girls caught up in war. 

"Ododo Wa, in Acholi, means our stories," said Grace Acan, who was abducted by the notorious Lord's Resistance Army rebel group (LRA) in Uganda in the mid '90s. She was just 16. 

The dark grey sweater hanging behind a glass in the museum carries a lot of meaning for Acan, who was at her all-girls dormitory when rebel fighters broke in during the middle of the night and took her, along with dozens of her peers. 

The LRA fighters would soon release some of those girls, but Acan remained with the group until her escape eight years later. 

"The other students who were rescued, they went back home," Acan told Day 6.

A sweater the colour of Grace Acan's school uniform is part of the Ododo Wa exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Submitted by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

Before leaving, the rescued girls took off their sweaters and gave them to the girls who would stay in captivity, Acan recalled. 

"We kept the sweaters on us all the time because it was the only warm thing we had," she said. 

"You wash, it dries and you put it back [on]." 

Acan said she kept hers "so well" until 1999. At that point, she had a baby who needed something warm to wear. 

"I cut [the sweater] and … make another small sweater to give it to my son," she said. 

The skirt Evelyn Amony wore in LRA captivity is punctured by bullet holes. (Submitted by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

The Ododo Wa exhibit also features a skirt that belongs to Evelyn Amony. Amony was also abducted by the LRA on her way back home from school in 1994. She was 11. 

She would stay with the LRA for another 11 years before managing to escape during an ambush. 

"You can see the bullet hole on it," she says about the green dress that hangs in the museum. On the day she escaped, many people died in crossfire, she said. 

Amony, who now leads the Women's Advocacy Network (WAN) in Uganda, says 12 bullets were aimed at her, adding she believes a higher power kept her alive. 

"A lot of people died that day in the bush," she said, adding that when she got home, she gave the skirt to her grandmother who kept it for her. 

Before LRA, a normal teenage life 

The exhibit also features a glimpse into Acan's life before her abduction. On display are several romance novels she was reading as a teenager. 

"There is one called [The] Hopeful Lovers," Acan said, recalling her ordinary teenager girl preoccupations. 

"All I wanted to know about [was], what is this that they call love in life?" she said. "There was no one who could tell me." 

Prior to her abduction as a teenage girl, Grace Acan loved reading romance novels. (Submitted by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

After returning from captivity, Amony signed an amnesty card issued to her by the government of Uganda, even though she didn't agree with its premise. 

The card is meted out to LRA fighters who are forgiven for fighting against the government of Uganda. 

It's hard to see what exactly she's being forgiven for, Amony said. 

"It [was] not our will to be in the bush," she said. 

Acan refused to sign the card. 

"My life was destroyed. I didn't hold a gun against the government, so why should I sign that I fought against the government?" she said. 

"There was no government to protect me, to bring me back."

To hear more from Grace Acan and Evelyn Amony, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.