Giving child soldiers a future

If you had five magic stones that could change people, who would you give the stones to?

Helping hands: the author in Uganda with husband Gary and Paulina

Helping hands: the author in Uganda with husband Gary and Paulina

If you had five magic stones that could change people, who would you give the stones to?

The question was one Donna White posed to her sister Sandra to pass time while on a Canadian road trip about 20 years ago.

And one that has resulted in Bullets, Blood and Stones, a novel that has a magical element based on reality and one that White will introduce this Saturday at the Salmon Arm library.

The daughter of local residents Ray and Edna Gowriluk, White says in their game, her sister asked if she could choose people from the past as well as the present, and settled on Hitler and Stalin as her top two.

In choosing the names of people she would like to change, White, who was fundraising for World Vision at the time, thought of the notorious Joseph Kony, a Ugandan rebel leader.

Kony stood accused of ordering the abduction of some 66,000 children to become child soldiers and sex slaves and displacing two million Ugandans from 1986 to 2009.

A member of Northern Uganda’s Acholi Tribe and self-acclaimed leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Kony was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2005 but has continued to evade capture.

Since 2006 peace talks, the LRA no longer operates in Uganda and Kony, who White says is on the list of the top-10 most-wanted individuals in the world, is now believed to be in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In writing her book, White soon realized she could not set her novel in place because she had never been to Uganda.

But World Vision was active in the country and, paying her own way entirely, White embarked on one of the organization’s Destination Life Change trips in 2007.

“There was nothing on the agenda about meeting former child soldiers, but I asked to meet with some,” says White, who visited with several, most of them between the ages of 15 and 18. “They had been abducted, some as young as seven.”

To her horror, White heard heartbreaking stories of how many of the children had been forced to kill their own family members and loot their own homes and villages.

Kony’s “army” would go into villages late at night and take children; the reason many of them began to commute to bigger centres, sleep on the streets, returning to school in the morning.

“Kony began surrounding schools during the day, or visit boarding schools at night, taking hundreds of kids at a time,” says a solemn White. “They would be forced to carry food, animals, anything that would help the army, and forced to march for days and days back to the LRA camp.”

She says those who were moving too slowly had their calves sliced and were beaten up, sometimes to death, by the other children in a horrific manner, dictated by Kony.

When White spoke to survivors, they had been in a World Vision recovery centre where they were given medical attention, counselling and educational or vocational training.

White asked one boy what he would say to Kony if he saw him.

“‘I would ask him to come out of the bush, to come out of hiding and come and live with us because I forgive him,’” she says. “When he told that story, I was floored; as a matter of fact, I was out of breath at the level of forgiveness.”

White says she believes the young man had been forced to do many horrible things and was hoping that in forgiving Kony, he would find forgiveness for himself.

But forgiveness is often hard to come by in the rural communities where witchcraft and voodoo are common.

“When a kid has an ajiji or flashback, they’re violent and (people) think they’re possessed,” says White. “That’s the reason recovery centres are so important; to help the children, but also help communities understand what their kids have gone through and how to help them.”

White wrote Bullets, Blood and Stones not just to expose what happened to children in Uganda, but to explore the concept of Third World values versus First World Values.

Meet Bruce, a bully who plays violent video games and likes to hurt others. He goes to Uganda and befriends Charlie who has escaped from the LRA and is lying bloodied by the side of a road.

The meeting leads to a life-changing experience for both and the first part of an adventure White plans to continue in two future books.

The book has already garnered great reviews and part of the proceeds from its sale will go to help former child soldiers in Uganda.

White’s presentation at the library begins at 2:30 p.m., but the author will be selling her book at the Mall at Piccadilly beginning at noon.