Today at the age of 34, he remains the youngest African ever nominated for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Many celebrate his milestone but do not know the story of a boy who grew up thinking war, hunger, insecurity and suffering was the only life on earth.
Born in 1981 in Abia village, Albetong district in Northern Uganda, he never knew the word peace or humanity ever existed in this world. Even with his beaming smile, he still remembers vividly the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to his family, friends and community like it were just yesterday. “I spent my entire childhood in conflict. From the Idi Amin regime, to the Obote II regime, the Museveni war, the Alice Lakwena war and the LRA war. It was quite a difficult situation growing up the North,“ he says.
He praises his existence today to his parents. While some parents opted to commit suicide because of the psychological torture and trauma of the war, his always gave moral support and guidance to him and his siblings even when they could not afford putting the cheapest food on the table. “We ran from home in 1986. Ever since then, we used to move from one camp to another until 2000 when the war was coming to an end.“
The constant running made it impossible for him and his siblings to get a decent education. He still remembers when he joined school as a kid only to be displaced for five years due to the insurgency. The only text material he remembers having as a kid was his quarter-left torn bible. He never had any textbook for reading nor scholastic materials but just his torn bible which he could constantly refer to for prayers and guidance. “For five years we were not in school. Schools were being burnt down, the war was intensifying. We were just wondering what was going on and when it will end.“
Photo: Zahara Abdul
At the climax of the conflict, he saw his friends leave school to join the rebel forces just to wear the army uniform because they never had clothes. He however refused to join because he wanted a peaceful way of solving the conflict. He never appreciated carrying guns and he had sworn to his mum that he would never join the forces.
To him, his childhood shaped him a lot. Everything he experienced as a child played a big role to aide his quest for peace as an adult and start asking questions. “All along when I was growing up, I could imagine, was every child growing up like this? We would ask our parents what exactly we did to deserve this suffering.” This perhaps gave him opportunity to give his first shot at advocating for peace way back when he was still a young boy in a camp. At the age of 13, his brilliant idea of starting a peace club in the camp was considered an alien thought since at that time, the only thing people in the camp could care about was holding the rebels accountable.
He never gave up. He believed that advocating for peace by use of a gun was not a solution. He continued preaching peace which gave him an opportunity to finally get a chance to move to Kampala (the capital) in 2002 where he worked for Straight Talk Foundation even when his heart remained home. He threw in the towel and moved back to Lira in 2005 where he formed the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET). This is where his dream of advocating for peace officially started. Today, his organization has so far offered psychological support to over 6000 LRA victims. Reconstructive surgeries have been made to especially women whose lips were cut off, over 100 peace clubs have been formed in schools and universities and over 5000 young people have gone through peace building and training programme.
The Nobel Peace Prize nomination took him by surprise. Being nominated by the American Friends Service Committee, the same committee which nominated Desmond Tutu and former American president Jimmy Carter, feels honored and forever grateful. What motivates him as a person who never saw peace while growing up is rather simple, all he wants is a world where no child or person suffers the same way he and his family did. He still hopes for the day when his elder brother who went missing during the war, will come back home and live a happy life together. To him, contributing to the rebuilding his community after the war, remains his greatest happiness in life.
Photo: Zahara Abdul
About forgiveness, justice and reconciliation, he believes that before the government declares that they have forgiven anymore, the victims should have a say because they know what exactly they felt.
Victor Ochen, the former LRA victim, has now become an inspiring figure across the world. From the east, to the west, north and south of the world, he has received peace accolades and remains a global icon to watch in this 21st century. His contribution to justice, peace and transformation, will undoubtedly be written in the books of history when curtains finally fall on our generation.