We began with songs. words and music. A peace movement is an incredible thing, people coming together, mobilizing like an army, and in this case armed not with guns but with songs and something more powerful than any bullet; compassion, the strength of human will, and determination.
For over two decades war ravaged northern Uganda. It is Africa’s longest running conflict and it has spread to South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. Joseph Kony’s LRA has made abducting children and forcing them to fight his chief weapon of war, even making them kill their friends and family members. Many abductees and former soldiers escape but hide in the bush, afraid to return home because of reprisals for the atrocities they were forced to commit.
The women of northern Uganda – widows, rape survivors, and former abductees had been banding together in groups to support each other and those orphaned by the war and diseases so prevalent in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. And they sang songs. The lyrics of “dwog paco” (come home) songs let former soldiers know that they were forgiven, that they should come home, and have encouraged thousands to escape the LRA and come out of the bush. The song were passed by word of mouth and over the radio, and in 2008 when founder Hunter Heaney first met with women’s groups in northern Uganda and heard their songs, The Voice Project was formed to amplify these voices and replicate the success of the Dwog Paco songs and radio program in the areas where the war had moved – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and southern Sudan (now South Sudan).
The first task was recording and collecting the Dwog Paco songs, and supporting the singers. The songs are varied and region specific across villages in northern Uganda, and sung in Acholi, the native language of the Ugandan abductees and long time fighters, as well as the language every LRA conscript is forced to speak, and even think in, within a few months of abduction on penalty of death. Hunter began this effort of collecting songs shortly after hearing one for the first time in the small town of Kitgum in fall of 2008.