A CHILDHOOD LOST?: A case of Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO) in northern Uganda
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- Institutt for geografi 
The number of children affected by conflict situations is on the rise in Africa. All their childhood experiences are marred by war. The conflict in Northern Uganda which has taken more than 20 years continues to attract local, national and international attention. Once a vibrant area, Gulu has been shuttered by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) atrocities. One of the eye catching scenes to Gulu is Murchison Falls National Game Park, a place where several vehicles were burnt and people butchered by the LRA which reminds the passengers the brutality they have lived with. The purpose of the study was to establish the effects of the LRA conflict on children, and evaluate interventions adopted by GUSCO in helping children recover and cope. The inquiry was qualitative with children as primary target. Data was collected using, interviews, focus group discussions, story writing, picture drawing and informal discussions. The Alternative Development theory was used in data analysis and presentation of findings. Information was coded, arranged in themes and categories based on research questions and are presented as narratives using direct quotes from informants. The findings revealed that children in Gulu continued to suffer directly and indirectly despite the interventions. With cultural values and traditions of the Acholi at the brink of collapse, the identity of the young generation is likely to be lost. Children fended for themselves and extended care to the young and elderly. HIV/AIDS prevalence increased, defilement, teenage mothers, prostitution and child labour have led to general decline in health conditions of children in Gulu. The education sector was characterized by declining academic performance and lack of scholastic materials. Night commuting still continued in the face of relative peace, Children continued to move because of domestic deficiencies and numerous deprivations, hostile home environments, accommodation problems, poverty, loss of track of parents and orphanhood. These attributes increased demands for children thus adoption of appalling survival strategies. Concerned mothers found it important to set up GUSCO to rehabilitate and re-integrate former child soldiers. Counseling and guidance, medical and traditional cleansing, sensitization programs, family tracing, reunion, formal and vocational education were essential in addressing the needs of former child soldiers. Pieterse (2001) argues that education is equal to development in a broad sense. Therefore transformation of lives of children in northern Uganda from disempowerment to empowerment requires fundamental changes, including education if children are to live meaningful lives in future.