There was a time when Julius Achon was not so eager to retell the events of his life. The fear and the nightmares of being abducted as a child by the extremist guerilla group, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, still haunted him, even when he came to the United States in 1995 on a scholarship to George Mason University. “I was so shy and so afraid to share my story … I felt maybe people will laugh at me or I’d be arrested,” Achon said. At the age of 12, Achon had been kidnapped by the LRA and forced to be part of their army where he endured being drugged and beaten.
A walk to promote justice
There was a time when Julius Achon was not so eager to retell the events of his life. The fear and the nightmares of being abducted as a child by the extremist guerilla group, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, still haunted him, even when he came to the United States in 1995 on a scholarship to George Mason University.
“I was so shy and so afraid to share my story … I felt maybe people will laugh at me or I’d be arrested,” Achon said. At the age of 12, Achon had been kidnapped by the LRA and forced to be part of their army where he endured being drugged and beaten.
Although the civil war in northern Uganda between the government and the LRA has improved lately, the effects of over 20 years of war are still all too real for over a million citizens who fled their homes and now live in refugee camps under dire conditions.
In response to the refugee situation, Gulu Walk was created in 2005 to raise awareness and to assist the displaced children of Uganda.
Gulu Walk gives financial support to programs such as War Child Canada, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR), and Justice and Reconciliation Project. The money received from the Gulu Walk goes to these organizations and in turn these organizations provide medical aid, education and advocacy for displaced children of Uganda.
This Saturday, Oct. 25, Portland joins cities around the globe by hosting a local Gulu Walk.
Susan Truax, director of sales for McMenamins restaurants, and PSU student Lindsay Bing [Bing is a Vanguard news writer], are co-coordinators of the Portland Gulu Walk.
Bing first heard about the devastation in Uganda through her high school, which led her to becoming involved with Gulu Walk.
Truax’s father does humanitarian work in Uganda, and she saw first-hand the ravaging effects all the years of civil war have had on Uganda during a trip she made with her father to the country.
When Truax got back into the states, she returned with a desire to get involved with helping the displaced people in Uganda. That’s when she found out about Gulu Walk.
Raising awareness of the situation in Uganda is the main vision that both Portland coordinators have. Truax hopes that the people who come are, ” touched by it.”
“I’m not saying devote their lives to it or anything,” Truax said, “but just to have a consciousness about it-to try to work for the peace effort, and try to make a difference, and to even just talk to people about it.”
The sense of urgency to share with those who are unaware of the atrocities he and many others faced back home in Lira, Uganda caused Achon to eventually overcome his shyness and fear of public speaking. “I feel when I tell this story, people will hear, then they will feel kind to help back home,” Achon said.
Through all his trials, Achon learned to persevere, receiving a scholarship to study in Kampala, Uganda, and later earning a scholarship to George Mason University. During school Achon excelled in track, and in 1996 and 2000 he competed for Uganda in the Olympics.
His life took another turn when the murder of his mother at the hands of the LRA kept him from competing in 2004, and an injury from a car accident prevented him from competing in the 2008 Olympics.
“I feel my life really changed a lot from the age of 12 when I was abducted, then coming to the United States.” Achon said. “It’s a beautiful country. Coming here gave me a good chance to support my family, to help myself, and to also show other people … when you come from hardship, you have to work harder to achieve your goals, or a better dream.”
Gulu Walk, which has raised over $1 million through the efforts of over 100 cities around the world, was cofounded by Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward in 2005 as an effort to raise awareness of the plight of thousands of Ugandan children fleeing abduction from the LRA.
Achon currently coaches the Nike Project runners in Portland, financially supports his family back in Uganda and recently started Ugandan Children Fund to help displaced children with clothing, food and education.
The Portland Gulu Walk will start at the PSU Park Blocks at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25. Participants will walk past City Hall, through Chinatown and back to the PSU Park Blocks. For more information visit www.guluwalk.com.