PARKERSBURG - A rally to draw attention to the plight of children forced into military service in Uganda will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Paul's United Methodist Church at Market and 11th streets.
Control of the African nation changes hands between warring factions, which, when they could not recruit enough soldiers, abduct children as young as 6 and take them into the bush to be trained as soldiers. Children are forced to kill and torture and if they refuse, they are mutilated, beaten, starved and killed, according to the Rev. Bryan Baker, the rally's keynote speaker who spent two years in Uganda helping children.
"When I heard about this human atrocity my heart broke and I knew I had to do something," he said.
In an effort to find the child soldiers, he began delivering aid to a refugee camp, eventually delivering supplies to the Pabo Refugee Camp, visiting night commuters in Gulu and rehabilitation centers for recovered child soldiers in Gulu and Lira. The experiences were overwhelming, Baker said. The boys do no know what peace is, he said.
"One of the boys at GUSCO Rehabilitation Center asked me, 'Do children in the United States get abducted too?'" he said. "I was stunned. In this child's worldview, the entire world must be at war. It was so sad."
Control of the country has shifted back and forth between the North and South, Bugandan and Acholi. A Bugandan is president and most of the Acholi rebel forces have subsided, except for the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group led by Joseph Kony, who has lost the backing of the Acholi people, Baker said.
In most parts of Africa, the custom in seeking justice is by telling the truth and having the stories be told, Baker said.
Kony has become less active and may be in hiding, but the Ugandan government has called for a national observance on Friday, to which Baker will speak and present stories, videos, photos and art by the survivors.