In 1987, Alice Achan was a 13-year-old living in northern Uganda when the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) descended upon her once peaceful and quiet village. In the book, The School of Restoration, Alice describes how the LRA prowled around the village “like a pack of wild dogs, looking for girls just like her”. She recalls how they used torture, rape, abduction and child soldiers. They taught the young boys in the village how to kill, giving them a terrifying ultimatum: kill or be killed. Alice recalls the LRA ordering the young boys to “first kill your mother”, words she will never forget.
Alice details the LRA’s 20-year campaign of violence, destruction and senseless killing, in the process ripping families apart and traumatising young lives. Watching those she loved decimated and defeated, Alice kept asking herself one question over and over again: why am I still alive when almost every person I rose for each morning is gone?
After tragically losing her mother and young nieces to AIDS, Alice was plunged into a deep depression. It was a chance meeting with a pregnant teenage girl and her toddler who had escaped captivity that gave her a glimmer of hope. Motivated by her young friend’s plight, Alice began to house, and nurture survivors of the sexual violence inflicted by the LRA. Out of this, Alice’s School of Restoration was born, Padar Girls’ Academy. Alice went on the help, educate and care for hundreds of girls. Many of the girls were left with AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and babies they cannot help but reject, seeing them only as reminders of their enslavement. Alice was a beacon of hope for these young women, refusing to give up or succumb to the anguish.
The School of Restoration is a captivating story and highlights the human capacity to survive and even thrive against unfathomable horror. Alice’s qualities of hope, forgiveness and redemption shine through making this a heartwarming story in the face of war and chaos.
The School of Restoration by Alice Achan and Philippa Tyndale. Published by Allen & Unwin 2020.