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Archbishop Odama receives World Vision Peace Award

September 28, 2012

By Peter Wigginton

 

“Although my name is on this award, I see this award, not for me, but I see that it is an award for the people of this area, in the north, who suffered so much and succeeded to have their will for peace, because it was the people who were saying: ‘we want to live in peace, we want to live peacefully. You people who are fighting, you stop, stop fighting!’” These were comments Archbishop John Baptist Odama made in an interview on September 18th, the day before he was awarded the World Vision International Peace Builder Prize. Odama echoed this statement the next day when he gave his acceptance speech: “I represent all, indeed this is an achievement of all of the tribe of humanity who have achieved this [award].”

This was not the only humble act during the award ceremony in Kaunda grounds under the oppressive sun.  After receiving the trophy from Hon Rebecca Otengo Amuge, the state minister in charge of Northern Uganda, Odama was given a $5000 check by Martins representative of World Vision. Odama graciously accepted the prize and promptly handed it over to Retired Anglican Bishop Ochola, board member of the Acholi Education Initiative, an education fund founded by the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI).  This check is for “the education of the children” stated Odama, because “I know education is a key and a guarantee of the future and of peace.” The culminating moment during the award ceremony was when Odama, proposed reconciliation for the people of Uganda. This is when he took the lead and forgave “all the people who thought, spoke and acted against [him].” He then kneeled before the crowd and asked for forgiveness of all the people that he had wronged or offended.

Odama kneeling for forgiveness before the crowd

Odama did not always think of himself as part of a global family but when he was about to leave his home for the first time his father told him: “the people that you will find that are like me, an adult man, treat them as your father, and for those who are like your mother, an adult woman, treat them as your mother, and for those who are like your brothers and sisters, treat them like your sisters and brothers.”  He added, “don’t go out there and make enemies with anyone, because those enemies that you will make will also become our enemies and we have no reason to hurt and later to die because of it.” Odama says that this message was something new to him, to think of other people outside of his home as relatives.  These points that his father told him, he came to realize, were even more strongly expressed in the scriptures.

Odama serving cake to the childrenWhen Odama kneeled down in the dirt before the crowd to receive his award it was not the first time.  During the height of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, the plight of the children was “very terrible” Odama stated during his interview. “There were young children maybe 8 to 10 sometimes 11 years old, walking long distances to find security in areas like parish centers, town centers or hospitals, very far away from their homes.”  Odama and other religious leaders of ARLPI said, “so many things could happen to these children, how shall we ensure their future.” So, they decided to have an advocacy strategy to be in solidarity with the children.  “It is rare to hear of a bishop that goes and sleeps on the street and let alone an archbishop.” Odama explained, “the children were actually speaking a message: they were asking, indirectly, to the government, ‘Government, why have you abandoned us like this? We are suffering.  We are looking for places for safety, why do you not protect us?’ They were saying to the rebels, indirectly, ‘Rebels, why do you target us, innocent as we are?  We don’t understand the meaning of all this fight, why do you force us there.’ They were also saying, indirectly, ‘we have been failed by the international community, by some of the bodies who had been founded for the care of children, why do you allow us to sleep on the street without even being covered and without any care?’ So in solidarity with the children the ARLPI board members decided to go and sleep on the verandas and in the bus park where the largest number of children were.  They went along with the children, taking only a blanket in a sack and walked and slept with the children for four nights.  After this action the international community finally responded to the needs of the children.

Odama pointed out that such a gesture recognized that not enough was done for the children. He added, “We as leaders, as political, religious, cultural or otherwise, we should have done something more for these children. There should have been a greater effort for sacrificing our lives for these children.”  So, Odama decided to apologize to the children then and there, he knelt down before them and asked for forgiveness.

In addition to his participation in bringing the plight of the Northern Uganda children to the attention of people around the world, Archbishop Odama has also worked tirelessly to bring peace to Northern Uganda.  Most notable is his participation in the Juba Peace talks between LRA and Ugandan Government leaders.  Odama, at that time chairperson of Odama and the ARLPI boardARLPI, along with other members of the ARLPI board were instrumental in the process of bringing about Peace Talks but they were also observers during the mediations.

On September 19, in commemoration for their work for peace Retired Bishop Ochola, Sheik Musa Kalil, the Acholi Chief Khadi, the Late Walter Ochora Odoch-retired army colonel, Hon Betty Atuku Bigombe -former minister of Northern Uganda and the broker of peace talks between Government of Uganda and the LRA and Ms. Angelina Atyam, were also awarded peace prizes together with Archbishop Odama. This was part of a weeklong program for peace ending on September 21, the International Day of Peace.
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