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Former Ugandan child soldier finds a family in the north country

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POTSDAM — Ricky Richard Anywar came a long way to be here, both geographically and emotionally.

Mr. Anywar is a native of Uganda, an east-African nation picking up the pieces after a decades-long civil war — one which claimed Mr. Anywar’s family, childhood and almost his life.

Mr. Anywar recollected the story at Clarkson University Tuesday morning, explaining how he became a child solider in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

“At the age of 14, I became a victim of abduction,” he said. “I was abducted with my brother and taken to the bush for two and a half years. They gathered our family into a grass hut and burned them alive while we were watching.”

The Lord’s Resistance Army typically makes abducted children commit atrocities against their community and family.

“They do it to give you a feeling of guilt,” he said. “To make sure you don’t go back to your community.”

Mr. Anywar’s brother escaped, but committed suicide. Eventually, Mr. Anywar was able to escape but was abducted again.

“The policy is if you escape and they catch you, they kill you,” he said.

He was saved from execution by a passerby and fled to Lake Victoria, where he worked as a security guard.

“I was afraid of telling people about my story,” he said. Eventually, he did tell his story and was sent back to school by a good samaritan. That led to work with the Ugandan Ministry of Education.

However, Mr. Anywar’s heart was with the people in his native area of Uganda.

“I decided to go back to the front lines and work with the kids in the camps,” he said.

Mr. Anywar founded Friends of Orphans, an organization dedicated to rehabilitating former child soldiers and reintegrating them into society. While doing his humanitarian work, he met Jonathan Fay, son of Daniel and Linda Fay.

“Ricky came to the U.S. in 2008 to receive the Harriet Tubman award in California and to speak in New York City,” said Mrs. Fay. “John asked him if he would go to Canton to visit with his parents on his way back to Uganda.”

“This one woman, just by telling her my story, she turned my life upside-down,” said Mr. Anywar of Mrs. Fay. “She said ‘Ricky, you lost your parents, but I’m adopting you.’ Through her, I feel like I’ve gone back to my family.”

Over the past few years, he has become a regular guest at the Fay household.

“Last fall Ricky was in the U.S. (speaking) as a world expert on reintegration,” said Mrs. Fay. “He spent several days at Thanksgiving with us.”

The Fays helped connect Mr. Anywar with Augustine A. Lado, a professor at Clarkson University, forging a partnership between his organization and the university to bring community-based radio to over one million people living in isolated northern Uganda.

Tuesday was also Mrs. Fay’s birthday — Mr. Anywar led his audience in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to honor his adoptive mother.

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