Levi and Grace in Uganda.
In 2009, musician Levi McGrath and his wife Megan spent six life-changing months working with former child soldiers in Uganda through World Vision. Here he tells the story of how he met Grace, a former Ugandan child soldier who was abducted into the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 12.
My muscles ache from the bumpy gravel highway, my eyes are strained and my once white T-shirt has been turned a light shade of brown from the dust. From the window of our World Vision land cruiser I notice a lot of beggars, a surprising amount. Most are missing a leg, some are missing an arm. It feels more like we’re driving through a hospital ward than a busy town centre.
Our driver explains that these amputees are casualties of war. On returning to their homes, villagers have stepped on landmines placed by Ugandan government forces, intended to keep Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) out. There are children playing in the gutter, collecting plastic bottles to recycle or sell. The smell of burning rubbish is thick and inescapable. Bicycle taxis surround us, one is carrying a mother and her two children returning from the market with a sack of rice and fresh bananas.
A young security guard with a rifle draped over his shoulder opens a pair of large steel gates, allowing us to drive into World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Centre. We’re welcomed with warm cups of goat’s milk tea and biscuits and ushered inside out of the thirty-five degree heat by local staff. It’s here that my wife Megan and I will spend the next six months. We’ll be working with former child soldiers who have escaped or been rescued from the LRA. I’m nervous and completely unprepared for what’s ahead.
Two days later I meet Grace. She’s tall and proud with a friendly face, braided hair, wearing a colourful dress and high heels. She sits behind an old desk in a small round office, shaped like a traditional mud brick hut, only made of tin. You could cook eggs on the roof. She explains that she works in partnership with World Vision, helping former child soldiers who are struggling to return to normal life after years of war. Each day she visits teenage mothers suffering with depression and young men who struggle with nightmares remembering their traumatic past.
In the coming weeks I watch from a distance as she counsels, comforts and encourages young people who come into her office. Each day she checks on children at the center, making sure they are being looked after and are feeling ‘at home’. She’s been a child bride and a soldier. She knows how they feel. They seem to really listen to her and respect her.
One afternoon Grace invites Megan and I into her home after work. We walk together through the dusty streets and down a concrete hallway into a tiny one-room apartment. It’s decorated beautifully with colourful sheets and posters of her favourite celebrities. Grace begins chopping fruit, mixing and whisking and within minutes offers us home made avocado juice with passionfruit. It’s delicious. I notice a small soft bear on her bed and ask about it. She answers confidently, “Oh, that’s Michael Schofield”.
“From that Prison Break TV show?” I reply, shocked.
“Yes, he’s my favourite,” Grace emphasizes. We all laugh.
In that moment I realise she’s just like us. She’s just the same.
More about Grace Arach
Grace Arach was abducted by the rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army at the age of 12 while travelling by car to visit her grandmother. Grace was forced to become the tenth wife of the LRA’s second in command and also served as a child soldier. She was given a gun heavier than herself and was forced to fight in many battles. After being shot in one of these battles, Grace escaped and was taken to World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Centre in Gulu, Northern Uganda.
Grace returned to school and in addition to assisting other former child soldiers entering the World Vision Children of War Centre, volunteered her time to work with the organisation, Children as Peace-builders. Grace is now living in Australia and is studying social work at University.
In 2009 Grace was named ‘Ugandan Woman Achiever of the Year’ for her strength in the face of adversity as well as her tireless work to support former child soldiers returning to their communities.
Levi and Grace will be visiting churches in New South Wales and Queensland throughout November and December for their ‘Night of Hope’ Tour. The events are a rare opportunity to hear Grace’s inspirational story alongside performances from Levi. Find out more about the Night of Hope Tour here.