A long-serving teacher described students at Lukodi Primary School as a lost generation because for the past 14 years only a few have advanced beyond primary school.
Vincent Oyet told the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday, May 2, that these students were taught under adverse conditions and have had a troubled childhood.
Oyet was testifying in the trial of a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Dominic Ongwen. He told the court he has been a teacher at Lukodi Primary School for the past 16 years or so.
He testified about the period between 2002, when he first became a teacher at Lukodi Primary School, and 2006 when he described the security situation in Lukodi as “starting to normalize.” The charges Ongwen faces cover the period July 2002 to December 2005. Oyet also testified about the impact of the LRA attack on Lukodi on schooling to date.
Ongwen has been charged with 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the May 19, 2004 attack on the Lukodi camp for internally displaced people (IDP). He has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other IDP camps, sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers.
In total Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Oyet is one of the witnesses called by lawyers representing one group of victims in the trial. This team is led by Joseph Akwenyu Manoba and Francisco Cox.
During Wednesday’s hearing Cox asked Oyet whether he would describe the students of Lukodi Primary School, especially those who were in the school after the May 2004 attack, as a lost generation. Oyet said he would.
“If I look at the future of our children, I mean the pupils, most of them were only able to go up to primary education. They could not go beyond. If they are to compete for jobs, for instance out of the country, if they are looking for people with [a] masters [degree] … they cannot compete,” said Oyet.
He said after the attack on Lukodi, the school was moved to a place, Laliya, closer to Gulu town, which was safer. Oyet said at Laliya they taught classes of 100 to 200 students each.
Oyet said during class he would see a student who was having trouble following a lesson, but he could not get to the student to “because of the congestion. There is no space for you to move around.”
“Once it reaches midday or one o’clock, the classroom would become very hot,” said Oyet.
He told the court that giving homework meant a teacher had to mark 100 to 200 exercise books.
“For that reason, what we would do is give very few assignments. In that scenario the quality of education at that time, in this center [Laliya], drastically came down,” said Oyet.
He said that when the school moved to Laliya, most parents remained in Lukodi, and the students saw very little of them. Oyet said during that time, in many families, it was older children who took care of their younger siblings.
“There were situations where the mother would stay for one or two days [in Laliya], and then she would leave. It was very difficult to meet the parents. Sometimes you can invite the parents to come but because of the insecurity the parents would not be able to come,” said Oyet.
He told the court that over the years the LRA abducted pupils of Lukodi Primary School, and many returned to school. He said some returned after having spent a long time with the LRA and others after only spending days with the group.
Oyet said teachers counselling these students listened to them narrate their traumatic experiences, one student after another, “and you are one teacher who is listening to all these things. As a teacher you also go through secondary traumatization. As teachers we never got an opportunity to get some counselling.”
He also said the students found readjusting to school life difficult.
“Some of them wanted to abandon their education on specific days, but we were able to counsel them. There were those who also wanted to commit suicide, but because of the counselling we gave them they never committed suicide, and they are living up to today,” said Oyet.
He told the court that the Norwegian Refugee Council, in collaboration with the district education officer, trained teachers in the Gulu area, including those of Lukodi Primary School, on how to handle and counsel their students after they returned from the LRA.
He said there were times when students stigmatized those who had been abducted by the LRA. Oyet said teachers would talk one-on-one to the student who had stigmatized a fellow student and the student who had escaped from the LRA. He said teachers would at times address an individual class or the whole school about accepting the students who had escaped from the LRA.
Oyet said when necessary the teachers also talked to the parents of the student who was being stigmatized. He said this was not easy because most parents were in Lukodi while their children were in Laliya.
“However, we are also aware that parents were not trained [to deal with their children who had returned from the LRA]. They therefore also became perpetrators of stigmatization,” said Oyet.
He said each child who had escaped from the LRA acted differently when they returned to school. Oyet said this was difficult for parents, and at times some of them gave up on their children.
“Some of the returnees were very aloof. Some of them were introverts, they would stay on their own, and some of them were very aggressive. If he or she did something and then you ask them [the student] to explain what they had done they would become aggressive,” said Oyet.
Thomas Obhof, one of the lawyers representing, Ongwen questioned Oyet when Cox concluded his questioning. Obhof showed Oyet satellite photographs taken in September 2004 of Lukodi, and he asked him to locate where the IDP camp was and the military barracks. Obhof also asked him whether he was able to differentiate between the government soldiers and a government-supported militia group, the Local Defense Unit, both of whom were deployed to protect the IDP. Obhof also asked about attacks on Lukodi before the one on May 2004.
Oyet concluded his testimony on Wednesday. Gibson Okulu was the next witness to testify. He testified on Thursday, May 3.