The day of Dembe’s abduction began like any other. She left home at eight o’ clock and boarded the school bus. But a few miles out of town, the bus came under heavy gunfire. Most of the other passengers were wounded or killed, including the two men either side of Dembe, who fell on top of her, shielding her body from the line of fire.
When the bus finally came to a stop, the armed men found Dembe still alive and made her stand by while they looted the vehicle and shot the few passengers who were still alive. When they had finished, Dembe was the only survivor. She was kidnapped and taken to join a group of abductees.
It soon became clear that her captors belonged to a much-feared rebel group responsible for countless human rights violations and headed by an infamous war criminal.
The group took 16-year old Dembe to southern Sudan to become a sex slave to their leader. As one of his many “wives”, she was forced to perform sexual favours on him and other fighters. On one occasion, Dembe saw another “wife” refuse to have sex with him. She was beaten almost to death.
Dembe often thought about her family, but never dared attempt escape. After two years, she fell pregnant. The birth was difficult, and she was admitted to hospital in Sudan, where the militia group were permitted to use medical facilities at any time. After another two years, she gave birth to a second child.
A miraculous escape
Several attacks by the Ugandan army forced the group to flee, and eventually return to Uganda. It was then that Dembe found her opportunity to escape, when she and two other mothers were unable to keep up with the rest of the group. Away from the militia, they were able to give themselves up to the Ugandan army.
Unlike many families, Dembe's accepted her lovingly back into their home. Miraculously, she was able to resume her education and soon went on to obtain a degree in Development Studies from the university in Gulu, while her mother helped her take care of her two children.
Now, Dembe is the main breadwinner. She must take care of her sister, her seventy-eight-year-old mother, and of course her own children. Yet in spite of her education and her determination to succeed, she struggled to find work. Last year, Dembe approached SOS Children in Gulu with plans to start her own business selling second-hand clothes.
Helping Dembe create a stable future for her family and her children
By providing the investment Dembe needs to get started, we have helped her on the road to self-reliance after so many years of trauma and hardship. While she manages the company herself, SOS Children are providing support and advice to help her work through any teething problems as the business expands. We are also helping her gain support from other organisations which work in Gulu and the surrounding area.
Undoubtedly, Dembe’s story is extraordinary. What is even more remarkable is the tremendous attitude of forgiveness she has adopted.
“It is better to forgive,” she remarks. “But you can never forget what has happened to you.”
Dembe has a message for those who stole eight years of her life: “You are ruining people’s lives. If you can hear us, you should bring back the children you have taken. Those children are our future."
*Dembe's name has been changed to protect her identity.
If you are inspired to help by Dembe’s remarkable story, learn more about how you can support families in Uganda...