UK Registered Charity No.1127562. Uganda NGO LDLG/11/2030       

The compassionate heart of Sarah Lanyero

(as told by Sandra Murphy founder of One Step at a Time)

Nature has entrusted woman as the giver of life, as the mother of the earth.  Given this great honour she can possess the energy to move the universe.  (Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta)

At just 18 years old Sarah has lived a life that many of us thankfully could never imagine.  Her life story although one filled with immense sadness and trauma is an inspiration. Her strength and determination to survive a childhood of deprivation and cruelty yet still grow to become a woman with immeasurable compassion for others is a true gift to humanity.  

Sarah was born in 1998, the 2nd of six children. Life was not easy as her younger brother Edmond died at age 7 years and another brother Isaac has severe learning difficulties. In 2001 Sarah’s father was shot by the LRA rebels as he drove a vehicle to Sudan. Later her mother was also shot by the rebels but survived only to die a few years later. Sarah’s older brother, abducted by the LRA rebels is still missing.

By the age of 9 both Sarah and her sister were abducted from school by separate LRA rebels forces and taken to the bush. Sarah was blindfolded and made to walk to a line of men and the one she touched became her husband. Her life was cruel with no food except when a raid was carried out on a village. She hated eating the stolen food from people she knew would have been killed, but this was the only way to survive her childhood. The head rebels would eat first and the abducted children got what was left over. If the rebels have them no food they would eat raw vegetables dug from the ground or leaves. The only water was from passing rivers.

They walked for weeks and if they were tired and asked to rest they would be shot. At nighttime the children slept in the open bush, often tied by a rope around their waist. Sarah still has serious scaring on her body from bites and injuries. The rebels forced the children to dance and if they were not happy the children would be killed.

Forced to carry and use a gun Sarah sorrowfully recalls that she also saw many people killed for no reason. Once she was sent with a rebel to kill a man but didn’t want to do it so she convinced the rebel to shoot a tree and let the man go free. She was terrified to lie to the rebel chief that the man was dead but knew it was the right decision.

Time passed by until a day came when Sarah was walking in the bush and upon meeting another group of rebels she noticed that with them was her sister. Although glad to see each other alive they both knew that they could not let anyone know they were sisters or they may be shot or even worse, one of them could be forced to kill the other.

During this time although Sarah had become a trusted abductee she still had been approached by another girl who wanted to escape. Sarah although very unhappy refused to go as she desperately wanted to escape with her sister. It took after 3 years before an opportunity arose. The girls were allocated together to take another girl to a hospital with a diseased leg. As the girls carried guns many people they approached for help ran away, but eventually they found some compassionate people who took them to the local barracks where they would be safe.

It was at this time that Sarah’s mother came to collect her daughters that she was shot by the rebels and they had to stay at the barracks until their mum had recovered enough to return home. Once home Sarah went back to school but refused to go back to year 3 as she was too big and people would know she had been abducted. She felt people would call her a rebel and treat her badly, so she put herself in class 6.  On 1st November 2004, when a girl was unable to sit her class 7 leaving exam Sarah saw a golden opportunity and sat it in her place. Unknown to Sarah this was to be the day her mother would die. Sarah recalls this day so clearly. She was in school when one of her uncles visited. She knew something was wrong as they never visited her at school. On announcing her mother’s death Sarah quietly sobbing continue to bravely take her final leaving exam and somehow was able to get a reasonable grade.

On returning home Sarah was deeply pained to find out that her mother had been buried without her being there. This memory still greatly distresses her to this day. In her sorrow Sarah was again dismayed to find that money her mother had left the family which should have taken them to school had been stolen. Now orphaned her uncles decided to marry her and sister to men they had never met. They refused to help unless the girls agreed to marry. Winnie accepted but Sarah knew she had to take care of  her brothers and decided do alone. The family lived in a camp at the time of rebel insurgency with absolutely nothing until the UN came to give the area food relief. They survived on this as a child headed family.

During this time Sarah was pleased to be chosen to be funded for a tailoring course in a school for abducted children and did 3 terms there. Unexpectedly the sponsor withdrew the support just before the end of the first year exams. Sarah was distressed and mortified and sat alone in a field crying. It was here One Step at a Time found Sarah. Touched by her story I agreed to fund her fees to the end of  her training. What we did not know was that during her last term Sarah was approached by a teacher who wanted her to be his girlfriend. She refused and he kicked her seriously and she was taken to hospital. She was afraid and ran to Gulu to live in a convent with some nuns.  I vowed to find her and help her again.

Whilst in Gulu Sarah found a boyfriend who she believed loved her but when she became pregnant he told her to abort the baby and left her. She decided that the baby would not defeat her and after all she had been through she knew she would fight to preserve that new life.  She was forced to leave the convent and when her blood pressure rose the baby was delivered at 6 months. She was alone in hospital through labour and with the baby in special care there was no one to care for them. She ate only through the kindness of other people and other patients who shared their food with her.

From here a priest met her and begged another convent to keep her and the baby. There was a clinic attached to the convent and an American volunteer doctor took care of the baby. It was from here that she borrowed a phone to call me in UK. I travelled to visit Sarah and baby Emmanuel. He is still not well as his lungs have not developed fully even though he has now reached his full term time.

When I spoke to Sarah last she told me she had an addition to her family. She explained that because she had been shown so much compassion by the people who had helped her, she felt that she should pay back some of this kindness. On witnessing a young boy being beaten and tied to a hut because he had wet his mat in the night, Sarah decided to adopt him. This young boy had been born without arms, and unfortunately disability in Uganda can be considered a curse, or a sign you have done something wrong in a past life. Due to this children with disabilities can be abandoned or mistreated. Sarah was so touched by this child’s distress that she decided to make him as her brother. Sarah is now teaching him to eat with his feet.

Those who know Sarah are touched by her compassionate heart. Her story is one of bravery, courage and incredible empathy and gentleness for those who are also suffering. Sarah is a very strong and determined girl. I have met strong women in my life but she has suffered more than many. She is committed to supporting her family and her aim is to reunite them all under her care. She is an amazing mother with so much love for her child and has learned quickly how to care

for him. She still suffers trauma but accepts that it is God’s will that keeps bringing her out of the troubles she has experienced. To date this incredible young woman is still living at the grace of the sisters.

Sarah has been trained to make jewellery and now feels ready to become independent and earn her own money. She wants to move back to live near to our office and bring her brothers to live with her.

Using something we throw away every day will enable Sarah to remain independent .If you would like to help Sarah to restart her life please help to collect and post the pull rings of cans.

Ring pulls for Sarah

One Step at a Time,

PO BOX 493,