|Photos by Marian Bach (IT photojournalist)|
Article by Ryan Gilles (IT journalist)
Helen knew what the mountains above Nakayot would look like long before she ever saw them. Before that village in northeastern Uganda even existed, Helen had dreamt about it.“I gasped when I first saw this place,” Helen says, looking around at green mountains that stretch up above the village she now calls home. “Because these mountains and this place, I had already seen them over and over in my dreams. When I came here I suddenly felt God giving me a peace of mind.” Peace is something that Helen and countless others of the Karamajong region of Uganda have always longed for, but rarely found. For hundreds of years, bloody rivalries between sub-clans in Karamoja locked the region in a vicious cycle of raids, revenge, and bitterness with tragic results. Cattle raiding has always been the most common form of violence, given the Karamajong’s pastoral nature and each clan’s belief in a divine right to the herds. But the collateral in terms of land, animals, and human lives reaches far beyond the cow pasture. Helen remembers those days of conflict all too vividly. “I would often have sleepless nights because enemies were always near. Even going out to collect firewood was dangerous.” With evident sadness, Helen recounts the day her good friend was killed by a band of passing soldiers while the two women simply tended to their gardens. “This place was a battlefield,” says one local from the region. “Five years ago this was no man’s land.
Even if you just passed by here on foot you would be sure to lose your life.” But now, the growing village of Nakayot stands where that battlefield once was. Five years ago, the concept of a peace village was proposed in order to bring together members of three warring sub-clans. No cattle were allowed and in exchange for resettling, the village inhabitants would be given land to farm and seeds to plant. Many were skeptical and thought it best to separate the clans as far as possible. But a few believed the opposite. Perhaps real peace might just be possible. Helen was among the first 40 individuals who volunteered to help found the peace village of Nakayot in 2008. “When we first came, there was nothing,” she remembers. “They just told us to bring a hoe and a machete to begin working the land.” Things remained tense in those early days as members of different clans lived side-by-side. “I was fearful sometimes,” Helen says with a laugh. “But in order to survive we had to work together. Eating together helped pave the way to peace I think.” Over the past several years, Team Beyond has committed to walking alongside those like Helen in the village of Nakayot and to working with other NGO partners in order to see peace spread. In its simplest form, that means building relationships, discipling believers, and encouraging a new local village church. Team Beyond is also working in a new clinic nearby to help provide basic healthcare for the people of Nakayot. “My life has changed so much since coming here,” Helen says, surrounded by friends as she tells her story. As they listen and talk together, there are no clan lines or rivalries to be seen. In that place they are neighbors. “Whoever comes here doesn’t feel like leaving,” Helen says as her friends laugh and nod. “The peace that started here is spreading. I think many beyond this place are beginning to open their minds to working together.” If you ask Helen whether she misses her life before Nakayote, she will merely chuckle. “Oh no, I am happy here,” she says. “This place is home.”