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Irene's Story
Uganda
May 1999
Age: 15 years

Can you imagine your hairdresser was once forced to kill people against her will? It might seem hard to believe, but if you were living in Uganda, it could be true.

Irene works as a hairdresser at Angel Beauty Salon in Gulu. Not too long ago, as a young girl, she was forced to kill other people. If she resisted, she would have been killed herself.

Irene says that about eight years ago she was returning home after a shopping trip with friends when rebel soldiers attacked them. She was abducted and made to walk hundreds of miles to the border near southern Sudan where she was forced to train as a soldier.

On the way the children were beaten many times and those who couldn't keep up were killed with machetes. Once she was trained, Irene had no option but to participate in killing people, even children who were caught attempting to escape their captors.

But Irene was lucky. Two years later she managed to escape and find her way home.

"I knocked on the door of my mother's hut and called out 'Mummy, mummy, open the door for me, I'm back'," she says.

"My mother lifted me with excitement, and said, 'I don't know what to say. I cannot believe it is you. I can't believe you are alive and well.'

"My brothers and sisters woke up with the commotion and all hugged me. It was very hard because they then asked me many questions that I didn't want to answer."

Irene was taken to a centre for formerly abducted children. She was sent on a training programme to become a hairdresser. Today Irene tries to forget about her past. She enjoys her new job and feels pride in helping her family.

"I have given my father some money to buy a goat for me. I have also given some money to my mother to take her to hospital," she says.