One woman’s story of surviving 20 years of conflict in Uganda

Despite losing her leg, her son and two husbands to violence, Filda Adoch cares for her larger extended family, meeting each day with a resilient outlook.

"My name is Filda Adoch, I am 53 years old. I was born in Along village, Paidwe Parish, in Bobi Sub-county, Gulu district, Uganda, where I still live today."

In October 2011 President Barack Obama announced he was sending about 100 U.S. Special Forces Green Berets to central Africa to help support the fight against self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). One of Africa's most blood-thirsty rebel groups, the LRA is notorious for massacring civilians, slicing off the lips of survivors and kidnapping children for use as soldiers, porters and sex slaves.

Ugandan government troops have also been accused of committing human rights abuses during the conflict that has scarred northern Uganda and neighboring countries for two decades.

In May 2010 Italian photographer Martina Bacigalupo traveled to the Gulu District of northern Uganda, one of the hardest-hit areas of the country. There she met Filda Adoch, whose son and two husbands died in violence that also cost her a leg. Bacigalupo returned to Gulu in January 2011 and spent three weeks documenting Adoch's life.

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"Here I am carrying the firewood home but it looks as if the firewood on my head is something like wings that make me fly in the sky," Adoch says.

"I dig, collect water, fetch the firewood, the hay, the cassava. Then I come home and cook. I also take care of one cow these days."

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"Here I just finished preparing the food and am calling the children to come.”

Adoch's first husband was killed after Yoweri Museveni became Uganda's president and tried to crack down on the LRA.

"When Museveni took power in 1986, the soldiers would often come into our area and kidnap people, accusing them of being rebels. One day they came and took all the men in the village – some were shot on the spot. I heard the shootings from the field and I hid," Adoch says.

"My husband was found in the bush and taken into a hole where they used to put suspected rebels. After three days they took them to Kampala and he died there. I never saw his body and I do not feel in peace because of this. My husband was not an LRA rebel."

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"Prayers before a meal with my grandchildren Ayenyo, Faida and Ojok."

Adoch is solely responsible for her entire family — five children, her mother, brother, two godsons and ten grandchildren.

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"I feel this is my picture because it's what I do every day. I do all the work by myself because I don’t have the money to pay for someone else to do it for me."

Adoch remarried after her first husband died.

"A few years after, it was 1996 I think, I stepped in a landmine while working in the field early in the morning," she says.

"It had rained and so I couldn’t see the ground well," Adoch says. "When I opened my eyes I was at the hospital and tried to get up and realized that a piece of my leg was missing. When I came back to the village after three months I learned that my second husband had been taken by the rebels and killed."

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"Here I did not have an axe or a panga [machete] with me to cut the wood so I decided to break it with my head. My back shows a lot of strength and reminds me that even though I am hungry I can still take care of my family."

Adoch's family was forced to move to a camp for displaced persons in 2003.

"The soldiers often beat us. If we came back after curfew they would beat us and roll us in the mud or dump us in the swamp," she says.

"They also trained our own children to beat people who were not on time. My own son was forced to beat my daughter one night when they were late getting back to the camp. The rebels also came into the camp twice. They abducted children and took our food. We were scared of both the rebels and the soldiers."

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"Here I see my mother looking at me and I realize she respects me for my work. I see my strength that can even defeat somebody with two legs."

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"This is a very true picture because everybody is in it, even the chicken. It's very clear."

A few years ago, when she had saved enough money to build a new house, Adoch and her family returned to the village from the camp they had fled to during the worst of the violence.

"I am happy we are back at home because I am free here, I can do whatever I want. I am taking care of my family."

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"This is the road to Kitgum. It's where my child was killed. I took the road to go collect his body. I remember this very well. I don't want to say more."

In 2004, Adoch's son Okello was killed when rebels ambushed the taxi he was taking to pick up his school results. Adoch couldn’t retrieve his body at first because her brothers and father refused to give her the money she needed to make the journey.

Adoch was only able to make the trip after she sold a goat and women in her community collected money for her. She used up all her savings to bring Okello’s body back.

"I brought him home and buried him near the house," she says.

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu

"This is the Acholi fire … It's where we teach our children how to welcome foreigners, how to conduct themselves in times of sickness, how to treat others."

The communal fire plays an important part in the culture of the Acholi people, Adoch's ethnic group.

"We also want those children who were born in the camps to see what our life was like before war. In Acholi, fire represents unity because everybody gathers around it."

"We teach our children to dance. Dance is very important in our culture, it marks every important event of the community."

Martina Bacigalupo / Agence Vu