It is a struggle for many former LRA child-soldiers who have returned home to make ends meet. With many of them living as single mothers and lacking formal education and jobs, access to quality health care, educating their children as well as obtaining good feeding is almost a myth. But Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development (YOLRED) recently rolled out an interest free, micro-credit intervention to help the former abductees overcome those challenges.

 The project was launched on Monday June 17. At least three groups that are founded and run by former LRA child-soldiers received the first batch of the loans to a tune of Shillings 5 million. The pioneer groups included Ribe Aye Teko Women’s Group of Layibi Division, Laliya Young Stars of Laliya Sub-County and Can Ogura Youth Group of Punena in Bungatira Sub-County.

 Speaking at the launch, YOLRED’s Programme Director, Geoffrey Omony, said that after studying the circumstances of the former child-soldiers, they realized that there was need to empower them in order to create room for universal development. Omony said that it is in the interest of YOLRED to see that the development that people talk about start with each individual household.

 “There cannot be development when someone is still sleeping hungry, their children cannot go to school and they cannot access medication when they fall sick,” he said.

 He however, said they were not giving the money as business foundations, but only adding onto what the groups already started. Omony appealed to the beneficiaries to put to good use the funds so that the benefit is made sustainable and not just a one-time thing.

 Hon. Patrick Ojara, a Local Councilor III for Layibi Division, said while the government has occasionally come up with similar empowerment programmes, it has not catered for such group of people because politicians either direct the funds to people close to them or the money gets embezzled. Ojara added that he was pleased that YOLRED was delivering to help those marginalized groups. He appealed for an expansion of the fund to other areas too.

 While Hon. Mary Labella Atyeno, a Local Councilor III for Laliya Sub-County said that YOLRED’s work with Laliya Young Stars has had a very huge impact on the members. “This group started as a group of drunkards and useless former abductee that many people despised but today, we can confirm as leaders that they have greatly transformed. Many people now want to join them,” Atyeno said.

 Hon. Collins Lawoko, another Local Councilor III for Laliya said that he was impressed by YOLRED’s choice of giving interest-free loans. “Many times, institutions give loans to people in the name of helping them but at the end, they leave the people with even bigger problems as they demand for very high interest rates,” Worst of all, many of them keep expanding the interests over delayed payments and sometimes even take property of those that take longer to pay, thereby increasing poverty instead of alleviating it.

 Ms. Ida Akongo, a former child-soldier and Chairperson of Ribe Aye Teko Women’s Group, said the loan was a huge support towards their endeavors for a better life. “Many of us struggle to keep our children in school and meet other family needs because, with our small businesses, we cannot take all the capital and pay in school. But with this money, we are going to be able to expand our businesses, get more profits and meet our needs without much troubles,”

Collins Odokonyero, the Chairperson for Laliya Young Stars, said when they started their Saving and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCOS) years back, they had the vision to grow it to a level that would enable them support vulnerable women in the community as well as single mothers, but they struggled to grow their capital. “Now that YOLRED has come to support us, we hope that this vision will come to pass,” Odokonyero said.