Setting the pace for sustainable peace in Uganda
Rotarian and former peace fellow Robert Opira (second from left) takes part in the Gulu Walk 2009, a peace-building campaign focusing on the plight of war-affected children in northern Uganda. Photo courtesy of Robert Opira
Robert Opira of Uganda is a master of understatement when he calls his first job out of college "very challenging work." As a psychological counselor and project manager for World Vision, he helped rehabilitate and resettle more than 12,000 former child soldiers in northern Uganda from 2002 to 2005.
"The Lord's Resistance Army had abducted and recruited an estimated 36,000 children, the youngest being seven years old," says Opira, a member of the Rotary Club of Gulu and former Rotary Peace Fellow. "It was this kind of work that motivated me to apply for the Rotary Peace Fellowship. I thought maybe I would do something to help prevent war, rather than addressing the consequences."
While a 2005-07 peace fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia, Opira got the idea for creating a conflict resolution center in his homeland. "I realized that starting the center would enable me to better utilize the knowledge and skills acquired from the fellowship," he says.
Opira shared his vision with another Ugandan peace fellow (2004-06) at the Queensland Rotary Center, Godfrey Mukalazi. Following their graduation, the pair founded the Great Lakes Center for Conflict Resolution in Gulu, Uganda. GLACCR is a nongovernmental organization working to address conflict and security challenges in the five-country Great Lakes region, where more than five million people have died since the mid-1990s in conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda alone.
Working with 26 NGOs and district government leaders, GLACCR is building conflict sensitivity training into development projects in northern Uganda. Opira says the effort, funded by a US$100,000 grant from USAID, will help preserve peace in area communities by focusing on the root causes and consequences of conflict.
GLACCR also provides expertise in peace-building and conflict resolution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Vision, Self-Help Uganda, and other NGOs active in Uganda. In addition, it is designing a conflict early warning system that will link global information technologies with local social networks to help prevent conflict.
Opira is also director of St. Peter’s Junior School, which he founded in 2008 with the support of Rotarians in Australia, Japan, and the United States. Designed to serve mainly children of families affected by conflict and HIV/AIDS, the school has established a nursery and aims to add one grade each year.
Opira says that "the support from Rotarians throughout the world" for his peace fellowship led him to join Rotary that same year. "I wanted to remain in the Rotary family. I realized that through this great family I could better serve my community."
Written for Reconnections