CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 28. . . .March 22, 2013
Grace, Milly, Lucy...Des Fillettes Soldates: Grace, Milly, Lucy...Child Soldiers.
Raymonde Provencher (Director, Producer & Writer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2010.
73 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9910 307.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
Most people have seen those heartbreakingly disturbing photos of child soldiers, children, often holding guns half their size, with icy cold looks and hardened faces. Their story is often told, and the world has quite rightly reacted in horror and disgust. What may not be known is of the 30,000 children taken into The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda over the past 20 years, 30 percent have been girls. Some taken as young as nine-years-old, they have been used to carry equipment, kept as wives to serve a commanding “officer” to do his bidding, provide children and to fight and kill. Their lives under these circumstances were difficult, but equally difficult is their return to their families and villages.
In featuring Grace, Milly and Lucy, filmmaker Raymonde Provencher shows how their individual stories, when extrapolated to all the other taken girls, are enough to make the so-called free world blush for its inaction. Grace was taken 9 October 1996, Independence Day in Uganda. Her school had been surrounded by rebel soldiers who threatened to blow up the school if the girls did not come out. They were tied up and forced to march barefoot and in single file through the night. Of the girls taken, 109 were released, but Grace and 28 others were kept. Those held captive were told that, if anyone tried to escape, the others would be killed. Grace spent seven months in captivity.
Milly and Lucy, both taken when they were nine-years-old, spent 10 years with The Lord’s Resistance Army. They were trained as soldiers, able to disassemble and reassemble rifles, to march and behave. They were told that the government had killed their families. When one girl tried to escape, the others were ordered to kill her. Lucy became one of 29 wives to one commander. Often raped, she became a mother at age 11 and was expected to carry her baby and her gun.
The commanders ordered the children to attack other villages. Staying well back from the action, the adults sent in lines of children to attack, pillage and then burn the homes. In a village of 70 people comprised of women, elderly men and children, they were told to kill them all and bring back “six heads as proof”. Any children spared were to be trained by the child soldiers as new recruits.
Life among the girls was competitive and often cruel. While it happened years ago, Lucy is asked why she was so mean to the other girls. As a commander favourite, Lucy had power over the other girls. Some “were more afraid of Lucy than the commander.” For the most part, Lucy says that she had no choice but to do the things she did. However, when reminded of a time she had a choice and still chose to be cruel, Lucy looks away and says, ‘Some things in the past should remain in the past.” Clearly, she is bothered by her past, but she does not seem to be able to admit it.
The girls—women now—admit that it is “very possible to create a killing machine…[when] taken at seven, traumatized, beaten, threatened, the gun is your life. If you don’t kill you’re dead.” While the first kill is difficult, the second is not: “At seven, you’re happy to impress.”
All of the former child soldiers featured are free from The Lord’s Resistance Army, but they find it difficult to re-enter their societies. Some feel that they will not be forgiven for what they have done, or cannot be trusted. As many have come home with children, they have to endure the harsh treatment given by the other children and adults. One teacher claimed “that returnee children have evil spirits in them” and that the children must be beaten to drive out these spirits. Some mothers, upon their return home, reject their children.
Milly has married Patrick who knows of her past, but he does not see that as a hindrance. However, his family does not agree. They do not trust Milly as they feel she is still a rebel. Lucy’s mother states that her daughter “could not have killed anyone.” Sadly, Lucy out of her mother’s hearing, admits that she has not told her mother everything. Lucy is convinced that evil spirits attack her at times and that she requires the services of the witch doctor to remove them. Some of the women wonder if they might not be better off “back in the bush.”
While the stories are horrendous, some women have worked together to form Empowering Hands, a support group which seeks to educate, rehabilitate, provide a safe haven and advocacy for their cause. Grace is shown speaking at the United Nations; the others have a radio show which reaches out to the returnees. Training in employable skills and diverse industries is key in keeping them occupied and grounded. Otherwise, without opportunity, “they could go back to the bush.”
Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers is a difficult film to watch. Much of the landscape photography, of which there is a great deal, is stunningly beautiful. That such hardship and injustice take place in such a beautiful land makes the reality that much more sad. There are many scenes of children playing, but the children taken as soldiers did not have that opportunity. Instead, they had their dreams and childhood taken.
The subject matter should disturb everyone. As a result, this is not a film for the faint-of-heart or those who cannot imagine a world where children are treated in this way. The fact that these women have been able to rebuild their lives is a testament to the strength of their spirit. However, the fact that they were held captive at all is a testament to the failure of those world powers which have the ability to stop this. At the end of the film, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon challenges the nations to act. The Lords Resistance Army and other similar rebel groups still operate in a number of countries, and children are still being taken as soldiers.
Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers would have applicability in any World Geography, Politics, Religion, Sociology, or History class. It could also be used in any discussion of Ethics, Social Justice, and International Law. Given the content and the length of the film, it would work best with senior classes.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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