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Landmine survivor helping fellow amputees
– von Gloria Laker Aciro
It was midmorning of March 1996, in the middle of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda. Rebels raided the local trading centre at dawn. Monica went to fetch water. She recalls: “I met a bicycle rider and gave him way by moving slightly off the clear path, but I forgot to go back immediately to the clean road – so I stepped on a landmine and it went off. Suddenly, I was on the ground, bleeding, with my baby stuck on my back.”
The loud blast attracted locals to the scene; they lifted her to the roadside, but there was no vehicle nor ambulance to take her to hospital. “Neighbours finally got the school lorry which took me to the next town,” Monica says. She survived, but her five-month-old baby boy was so badly injured that he died.
Monica’s right leg was totally shattered. It was a shock when the doctor decided to cut it off above then knee. After three months in hospital, she was discharged. Life at home was now much more difficult, as she had to learn to use an artificial limb.
“My situation turned from bad to worse when my husband rejected me saying people were mocking him over my disability,” Monica says. He left her when she was five months pregnant. Her brother took her and her children in. “With the support of my family, my kids excelled in school academically; my eldest girl joins university this year,” Monica proudly tells. He husband actually reappeared after 11 years. They are now reconciled and living together again.
Monica felt called to helping fellow landmine survivors to cope with their situation and overcome stigma. She took a course in counselling and guidance. She started an non-governmental organisation and applied for a Norwegian grant. Her team has managed to build about 500 two-room-houses for landmine survivors and also provided cows and small-scale business capital to survivors.
“I focus my counselling on persuading amputees to go for artificial limbs as they overcome their stigma associated with disability,” she says, appealing to fellow survivors to support one another and stay resilient.
Gloria Laker Aciro is a former war and peace reporter on the LRA conflict in northern Uganda, now heading the Peace Journalism Foundation of East Africa. She lives in Uganda.