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From witch-doctor’s altar to freedom

Harrowing tales of little angels that survived child sacrifice

“Let us pray…humble yourselves and close your eyes… Dear God…” 10-year-old Canaan Nankunda breaks into the cheerful play of his peers, drawing them into a circle.

This fabric of family and friendship is knit with the golden thread of prayer, because it is this that has mended their broken hearts, lives and families.

Welcome to Kyampisi Child Care ministries (KCM), located in Kisaasi and Mukono, a safe haven for children that have been grabbed from the jaws of death through child sacrifice.

After prayer, the children break into harmonious praise to God – after all, it is by God’s mercy that they are still alive. These children have experienced trauma beyond my ability to comprehend; like the story of five-year-old Hope.

She was found lying in a sack in a cattle yard where it was discovered that the tip of her tongue and her big toe had been cut off, and some teeth snapped out. This has impaired her speech greatly.

Peter Ssewakiryanga, a director at Kyampisi Child care ministries (an organisation working to end child sacrifice in Uganda), recounts Hope’s journey to freedom:

A daughter of impoverished parents, she vanished without a trace in June 2009. One and half years later, a lady named Agnes was walking to church with a young boy.

The boy came across a sack lying in a cattle yard – he ran up to Agnes and told her there was a strange noise coming from the bag. Agnes described it as a piglet snorting, kind of. They opened the bag to find a little girl bound by ropes and barely alive.

Agnes carried her to the nearest medical clinic and they told her the child was dead but she did not believe them. In disbelief, she hurried off to the next health centre but was told the same thing.  But her belief insisted otherwise; the child she was holding was not dead.

It was only at the third clinic that they realised Hope was alive, but barely. She was transferred to Mulago hospital where she received a number of blood transfusions and treatment for over two months. Agnes stayed by her side and gave her the name ‘Hope’. Hope was what everyone was holding onto for this precious little life.

Agnes went to the local council to tell the story of how Hope was found. They referred her to the police and announcements were made over the radio about the little girl. Hope’s parents came forward and identified the little girl as their daughter who was kidnapped more than a year earlier. Hope’s parents left and soon after, a man arrived.

He had heard the announcements over the radio for Hope, who had been found. He introduced himself to Agnes as someone who was looking out for Hope’s best interests. He said he wanted to help Agnes care for Hope, but asked Agnes for the child’s hair and nails.

When Hope was first discovered she had long, unkempt hair and long curled nails which Agnes had trimmed. Knowing this was an unusual question, Agnes said: “I gave those to the doctor and he disposed of them.”

Without another word, he left. A child’s hair and nails are used in witchcraft. Even after Hope’s narrow escape, the radio adverts had interested witch-doctors too, who wanted more from her.

Agnes reported this incident to the police and described the man who had visited the hospital. Police identified him as a neighbour to Hope’s parents. Police identified him as a witch-doctor and the one responsible for Hope’s kidnap and torture for the past one-and-a-half years.

Currently, Hope is receiving psychological, spiritual and physical healing at Kyampisi Child care ministries. When I looked at her seated in her wheelchair, I saw a light inside her. Her laugh could encourage anyone to laugh along with her.

Children in death’s pot

The harrowing practice of child sacrifice begins when an individual consults a witch-doctor or ‘traditional healer’, who will then require a child. Depending on the gravity of the issue that brought the ‘client’ to the witch-doctor, the witch-doctor may demand for a certain body part of the child to sacrifice to the witch’s gods.

Any part of a child becomes a currency; a barter tool for the gods to allegedly grant business success, prosperity, wealth or health.

“Hundreds of children are kidnapped usually by a neighbour and brutally mutilated in this completely selfish and heartless act. A maimed child may be left to bleed and die, while others are kept alive for continued acts of witchcraft,” Ssewakiryanga says.

He adds that the most sought-after body parts are the ears, genitals, heart, liver, tongue, nails, blood and oesophagus. Canaan Nankunda, a former P.1 pupil at Kamera Community primary school in Luweero, is lucky to have escaped this hellish sacrifice in October 2010.

As he narrates the tales of his past, emotions well up so much that he cannot bear the pain of it. The sound of silence echoes…until finally the tears roll down his dark skin. Nankunda and his eight-year-old sister Sylvia Suubi had been herding cattle when they fell into the mutilators’ claws.

When Nankunda left to fetch water for the cattle, Suubi’s activity was interrupted by a man who wanted her to follow him. She, however, insisted that she had to wait for Nankunda who returned 25 minutes later.

“Without warning, he grabbed us both, tied our shirts together and led us to a shrine. He told us to lie down and he began strangling me but I fought him until I lost consciousness,” he now says is a low monotone.

On regaining consciousness, he noticed he was bleeding from the back. He suffered a deep stab wound on his neck and Suubi was by then dead. He made an alarm and dashed out of the shrine causing the witch-doctor to scamper for safety. Nevertheless, the witch-doctor was arrested three days later.

Hope at KCM

Nankunda says he is slowly recovering from the trauma of being held hostage in a shrine and seeing his sister killed. George Mukisa had his genitals completely removed and was rescued close to death after he had been mutilated and then discarded.

Ssewakiryanga says by the time Mukisa was rescued, he had lost so much blood and required extensive treatment to reconstruct his genital area.

“After failed attempts to reconstruct his genitals in Uganda, he remained unable to control his bladder and a sufferer of continued urinary tract infections,” he recalls.

However, through the outreach of KCM, he was able to receive reconstructive surgery in Brisbane, Australia. He can now control his bladder and is attending school at Kyampisi Childcare Centre in Mukono.

KCM Uganda chapter was registered in 2009 with a focus on reaching out to the community in order to impact positive change for victims of child sacrifice and their families in terms of social awareness, economic and spiritual development.

The centre has worked with more than 100 affected families and is working towards increasing awareness on child sacrifice.

“We started a school, Kyampisi childcare centre, that has enrolled at least 200 children and its mission is to give vulnerable children spiritual, physical and  emotional springboards to better their lives,” Ssewakiryanga says.

He says many of the children they rescue are raised in families that believe in witchcraft. In fact, Kyampisi is a renowned hill for witch-doctors. However, boys such as Mukisa now face a future of infertility because of the castration.

Moreover, police does not promptly follow up cases of child sacrifice and sometimes, court claims to have lost the files and guilty witch-doctors walk free, only to snare another unsuspecting child and wipe out its innocence.

As I bade them farewell, the little ones threw their palms wide into the air and waved goodbye, some saying “God bless you” and others saying, “Aunt weeraba (see you).”

They may be too young to lose sleep over their future for now, but with the sun beaming down from the clear skies on their small bodies, they seem quite content with their ‘now’.


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