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The School of Restoration: The story of one Ugandan woman who has given hope to hundreds of female survivors of war and violence

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Alice Achan was just thirteen when the Lord's Resistance Army first terrorised her village in northern Uganda in 1987. She spent five years on the run from the brutal LRA, and then cared for her young nieces after their mother died of AIDs, losing them one by one to the disease. Their deaths plunged her into depression, which only began to lift after she took in an unexpec Alice Achan was just thirteen when the Lord's Resistance Army first terrorised her village in northern Uganda in 1987. She spent five years on the run from the brutal LRA, and then cared for her young nieces after their mother died of AIDs, losing them one by one to the disease. Their deaths plunged her into depression, which only began to lift after she took in an unexpected guest: a pregnant teenage girl, kidnapped and assaulted by the LRA, who had escaped captivity with her toddler. Spurred on by her young friend's plight, Alice began to house and nurture survivors of the sexual violence that was a trademark of the LRA's twenty-year campaign. Out of this rose the Pader Girls Academy, which Alice saw as a 'School of Restoration'. It has helped hundreds of girls, many left with babies and HIV as a result of their enslavement. Alice recognised the humanity and potential in these girl mothers, who had been rejected or were trapped in their villages without hope. Written in Alice's powerful yet understated voice, The School of Restoration is a compelling story of hope, forgiveness, redemption and the human capacity to survive and even thrive against the backdrop of war and chaos.


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Alice Achan was just thirteen when the Lord's Resistance Army first terrorised her village in northern Uganda in 1987. She spent five years on the run from the brutal LRA, and then cared for her young nieces after their mother died of AIDs, losing them one by one to the disease. Their deaths plunged her into depression, which only began to lift after she took in an unexpec Alice Achan was just thirteen when the Lord's Resistance Army first terrorised her village in northern Uganda in 1987. She spent five years on the run from the brutal LRA, and then cared for her young nieces after their mother died of AIDs, losing them one by one to the disease. Their deaths plunged her into depression, which only began to lift after she took in an unexpected guest: a pregnant teenage girl, kidnapped and assaulted by the LRA, who had escaped captivity with her toddler. Spurred on by her young friend's plight, Alice began to house and nurture survivors of the sexual violence that was a trademark of the LRA's twenty-year campaign. Out of this rose the Pader Girls Academy, which Alice saw as a 'School of Restoration'. It has helped hundreds of girls, many left with babies and HIV as a result of their enslavement. Alice recognised the humanity and potential in these girl mothers, who had been rejected or were trapped in their villages without hope. Written in Alice's powerful yet understated voice, The School of Restoration is a compelling story of hope, forgiveness, redemption and the human capacity to survive and even thrive against the backdrop of war and chaos.

30 review for The School of Restoration: The story of one Ugandan woman who has given hope to hundreds of female survivors of war and violence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    I knew I would love this book as soon as I saw it on Allen & Unwin’s Facebook page and grabbed the only remaining copy I had at work (a bookstore) as soon as I could. As the title/blurb suggest, the book is about a school for girl mothers, many of whom were abducted to serve in the Lord’s Resistance Army and whose babies were a result of rape. The creation of this school doesn’t feature until later in the book, but I found that the journey to this point was what really inspired me. This book put I knew I would love this book as soon as I saw it on Allen & Unwin’s Facebook page and grabbed the only remaining copy I had at work (a bookstore) as soon as I could. As the title/blurb suggest, the book is about a school for girl mothers, many of whom were abducted to serve in the Lord’s Resistance Army and whose babies were a result of rape. The creation of this school doesn’t feature until later in the book, but I found that the journey to this point was what really inspired me. This book put a name, a face, a story to so many issues I’ve studied at university. It finally sunk in for me how hard it is for girls to go to school. From the threat of war and abduction, to being bullied by boys in and out of school, to family duty that sends them into the fields or caring for relatives. I also glimpsed the enormous pain and frustration of losing people to HIV/AIDS over and over again. I feel so much closer to these issues, especially because I had the amazing experience of teaching and helping lead a girl’s empowerment group in Zambia last year. Books like this revive my drive to find ways to continue to help girls get the education and life improvements they deserve. I recommend this to everyone!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    Very inspiring story of a clear headed woman in Uganda surviving abduction but living through so many losses in her family to HIV. She managed to get her education and made it her mission to help girls who were abducted and raped to go back to school whilst allowing them to be mothers. An undertaking that seemed impossible was eventually backed by the UN and other organisations that made it possible for the school to be built and run. She inspired so many women who have managed to improve their Very inspiring story of a clear headed woman in Uganda surviving abduction but living through so many losses in her family to HIV. She managed to get her education and made it her mission to help girls who were abducted and raped to go back to school whilst allowing them to be mothers. An undertaking that seemed impossible was eventually backed by the UN and other organisations that made it possible for the school to be built and run. She inspired so many women who have managed to improve their lives thanks to the support and education they received.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alysia

    Amazing book about one woman’s determination to make a difference in her home country. The female survivors of the brutal Ugandan war are blessed to have Alice Achan in their corner fighting for them.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Heather Thomson

    Such an incredible story. I loved how Alice’s voice grew as she found her purpose. I loved that her voice was amplified, and the story wasn’t told about her. Such a powerful story of hope, forgiveness and restoration for girls & women in Uganda and beyond

  5. 4 out of 5

    Aoiffe Hughes

    Often harrowing but entirely enlightening and uplifting. The individuals ability to rise above despite, or perhaps in spite of, personal suffering and help others can never be underestimated.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Charming Language

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. "The first time I fled the attackers I was thirteen years old. I found myself huddled behind a huge ant hill, shaking at the thought of being caught. I had never before known what it was like to be frightened by man." On this life changing day, Alice hid behind the ant hill, with bleeding feet and a thumping heart, shielding her young niece and nephew from the Karimojong men – cattle raiders who had invaded her quiet village. When the ant hill was exposed, the children ran again, for several kilo "The first time I fled the attackers I was thirteen years old. I found myself huddled behind a huge ant hill, shaking at the thought of being caught. I had never before known what it was like to be frightened by man." On this life changing day, Alice hid behind the ant hill, with bleeding feet and a thumping heart, shielding her young niece and nephew from the Karimojong men – cattle raiders who had invaded her quiet village. When the ant hill was exposed, the children ran again, for several kilometres, hiding for 3 days amongst river reeds until the gunfire silenced and they dared to make their way back home. Safely back in the village, the children found only momentary comfort. Alice’s strong, "determined father a chief and leader in the district […] sat motionless, his eyes fixed on a distant spot…" The men had taken their food, clothes and money. Her father was bruised and beaten. This run in with the Karimojong was a mere rehearsal for the 20 year reign of terror endured by the people of northern Uganda. Long term complex and multifaceted political unrest, amidst the frustrations of postcolonialism, was not new to Uganda. But in 1987, brutal rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army, revolted against the Ugandan government, gathering strength and numbers through terrorism. Targeting specific ethnicities, including the Acholi, the LRA used torture, rape, abduction, widespread destruction of villages, and the recruitment of child soldiers to achieve their (often nebulous) goals. Their charismatic leader, Joseph Kony, is still making headlines today. I’m ashamed to admit that headlines made up much of what I knew about Uganda before reading The School of Restoration. I understood that the concept of child soldiers is gut-wrenching, and the fact that war has terrible consequences for families. But there’s simply so much war…so many headlines…it’s so easy to grow numb to it all. I’m so grateful to Alice Achan for bravely sharing her life story, with the help of Australian journalist and philanthropist Philippa Tyndale. Together they have personalised the headlines, taking readers on a journey to the frontlines of war – and beyond, to those dark places where psychological damage can be as life threatening as any physical scars. Importantly, this book focusses on education as a thread that ties many different human stories together, as Alice identifies the significant impediments for children of war – especially girls – to further their learning. Alice’s voice reaches us in spare, pragmatic prose, with evocative photography and a helpful glossary of terms. The School Of Restoration is both autobiography and history lesson, punctuated with salient social commentary. It doesn’t pull its punches when outlining the horrors of war, but neither does it wallow in sensationalist detail. It affords dignity to those whose terrifying stories are laid out for our gaze, always returning to Alice’s faith that there is hope and potential if people are given the right opportunities. The first half of The School of Restoration follows Alice, who is bright and keen to learn from her earliest years, as she struggles to secure a basic education. Besides a generally misogynistic culture, Alice’s personal barriers to learning include the necessity for frequent relocation as war forces her family to scatter in search of work or shelter; the expectation that she will be a makeshift mother for nieces, nephews and friends, particularly as these children lose their own mothers to war or disease; and the deep fatigue that comes from watching those you love decimated and defeated. Reading Alice’s words, I kept returning to the image of a child playing in tumultuous beach waves: as soon as they get a firm footing, another wave knocks them flat. Over and over. Until they almost give up. But not quite. "I kept asking myself one question over and over again: Why am I still alive when almost every person I rose for each morning is gone?" For many Ugandans there are even more devastating impediments to creating a brighter future. Alice watches those she loves succumb to the scourge of HIV, which is rife in an environment where rape is common, but sexual and obstetric health education is not. Alice was not abducted by the LRA, but those who were, and who survive to return to their villages, face a lifetime of vilification. Young soldiers are indoctrinated by torturing their own families – and, thus, often rejected when they’re finally free to come home. Young girls are raped and returned with pregnancies they can’t manage, leading to babies they reject, seeing them only as reminders of pain. What’s more, girls with babies cannot go to school, further limiting their potential to improve circumstances for themselves, their families or their communities. Mercifully for these girls, Alice did not succumb to the waves of anguish. Alice did not give up. Philippa Tyndale first met Alice in 2008, during a period of respite and rebuilding for Uganda. Now in her thirties, buoyed by faith and determination, Alice had not only finished her education, but established a school – the Pader Girls Academy – which Philippa visited as part of her ongoing work in development and philanthropy. With a social work qualification, and several years’ experience of counselling young victims of conflict, Alice had succeed in securing funding from charities and NGOs, and convincing the Ministry of Education of her legitimacy, bringing hope to girls who would otherwise have missed out on an education. The book’s second half follows the establishment of the Academy which is, indeed, a school of restoration. The first of its kind, it provides schooling alongside counselling and maternal health support to young mothers. Girls, who may be as young as Alice was when she first encountered the Karimojong, can study while they feed their babies. Toddlers play safely under the trees, while their mothers acquire business and trade skills to allow them to generate an income when they leave. Alice’s advocacy has taken her beyond Uganda, too. To New York, London, and Sydney, addressing NGOs, governments and UN representatives, as a spokesperson – and as a mentor, inviting fellow survivors to share their stories. Her willingness to take progressive action, not revenge, is a lesson to us all. "Some people confuse forgiving those who killed and maimed in our war with accepting bad behaviour, but it is not that simple. Without forgiveness, we will be left with only angry and powerless victims." You can read a longer version of this review at charminglanguage.com

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    A book about an incredible woman with an incredible journey helping and inspiring girls through education and restoring their personal traumatised lives. I have been absolutely moved by reading this novel. It saddens me the traumatic environment these girls, communities and families have lived through. I cannot completely come to terms with such inhumane violence on any person. A mother and their daughter separated, the violence, death, and lack of care of others. It was a very difficult book to A book about an incredible woman with an incredible journey helping and inspiring girls through education and restoring their personal traumatised lives. I have been absolutely moved by reading this novel. It saddens me the traumatic environment these girls, communities and families have lived through. I cannot completely come to terms with such inhumane violence on any person. A mother and their daughter separated, the violence, death, and lack of care of others. It was a very difficult book to read, which lead to some pause in reading to reflect how others go through such horrible acts in their lives. How I shall be forever grateful and a book that has educated me further to realise those from countries torn apart shall be treated with respect and a glimpse of hardship they have endured and will forever endure for eternity. A truly inspirational book that will forever move my mind and heart. You are such a beautiful person Alice Achan. Well written Philippa Tyndale.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    I've read a lot of books about war experiences in Africa - mostly South Sudan. And really most of them have been about boys - boys as child soldiers, boys as refugees. This is my first book about the situation in Uganda, and the first to talk about girls' experiences of war - being abducted by the LRA, forced to serve as slaves, or sex slaves, given to older army officers as wives, forced to work as pack animals. Thankfully Alice wasn't abducted, but she has dedicated her life to helping girls w I've read a lot of books about war experiences in Africa - mostly South Sudan. And really most of them have been about boys - boys as child soldiers, boys as refugees. This is my first book about the situation in Uganda, and the first to talk about girls' experiences of war - being abducted by the LRA, forced to serve as slaves, or sex slaves, given to older army officers as wives, forced to work as pack animals. Thankfully Alice wasn't abducted, but she has dedicated her life to helping girls who were, and young mothers, in her home country of Uganda. Alice has forgone marriage and a family of her own and spent her time pursuing education, then setting up a charity and school or these girls. She is inspiring and amazing. When others didn't want to hear the horrible stories of these girls' experiences, Alice listened and did something about it. An inspiring and engaging story. Well worth a read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rosalyn

    This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the problems facing Africa in the post-colonial era, and looking to find a solution that does not herd thousands into displaced persons' camps and leave them there to stagnate in their trauma. It is an eyeopener for us in the more affluent countries as to what happens in a modern civil war. The treatment of women and girls is heart breaking. Alice Achan is a young woman personally affected by the civil war in Uganda, who is not afraid to stand up This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the problems facing Africa in the post-colonial era, and looking to find a solution that does not herd thousands into displaced persons' camps and leave them there to stagnate in their trauma. It is an eyeopener for us in the more affluent countries as to what happens in a modern civil war. The treatment of women and girls is heart breaking. Alice Achan is a young woman personally affected by the civil war in Uganda, who is not afraid to stand up to the men in authority, and to challenge their prejudices and beliefs. Here is a book with the answer to how to heal the physical, emotional and societal trauma suffered by girls as young as eight or nine years of age, at the hands of men and boys in their society, and especially in the context of war.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This isn't the best written book that I have ever listened to but it's still a fascinating story. Alice opens a window into growing up in Northern Uganda with LRA rebels terrorizing local residents taking away the boys to be child soldiers and girls to be "wives" of rebel leaders. Alice is lucky, if that is even the right word, in that she has several narrow escapes including one at school where she just happens to have a mattress land on her but her entire class is taken away. Alice takes every This isn't the best written book that I have ever listened to but it's still a fascinating story. Alice opens a window into growing up in Northern Uganda with LRA rebels terrorizing local residents taking away the boys to be child soldiers and girls to be "wives" of rebel leaders. Alice is lucky, if that is even the right word, in that she has several narrow escapes including one at school where she just happens to have a mattress land on her but her entire class is taken away. Alice takes every hardwon and sporadic opportunity to get an education and eventually trains as a social worker. She must drop out several times to look after her nieces who die of AIDS one by one - such a tragedy and beautifully described in such a heartbreaking way. She eventually starts a school for girls who have escaped from the rebels, have babies and are mostly looked down upon. Alice is amazing. I liked the reader a lot - particularly her pronunciation of girls as "gels" which just made me smile!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Muphyn

    An important Ugandan story that's poorly told. The narrative is somewhat jumpy, and coupled with a little understood, confusing conflict (for most Westerners), it's hard to follow at times. The writing is really just average, and the audio narration far too fast to take all the details in. Alice's courage, faith, the lives she's impacted and the incredible work she's involved in deserve 5 stars but the actual book would only get a two. So I've settled on 3 stars. An important Ugandan story that's poorly told. The narrative is somewhat jumpy, and coupled with a little understood, confusing conflict (for most Westerners), it's hard to follow at times. The writing is really just average, and the audio narration far too fast to take all the details in. Alice's courage, faith, the lives she's impacted and the incredible work she's involved in deserve 5 stars but the actual book would only get a two. So I've settled on 3 stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Geraldine

    This is a remarkable story of resilience despite the ravages of war, poverty and famine. For Alice Achan to have survived all she did, with forgiveness instead of bitterness or anger, and give her girl-mothers a place of hope, acceptance, value them for their being, and providing prospects for their education is an inspiration. For every copy of this book sold, royalties will support the schools and clinics established by Alice and CCF.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Georgina P

    I have been listening to the beautifully read audio version of this book and have been completely consumed by Alice’s equally heartbreaking and heartwarming story. It is such an important story to hear; inspiring hope in humanity and utter respect for those who give so much to make other’s lives better. I can’t recommend this book more highly... I am going to buy a paperback version now and I know I will keep returning to it!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sean Harding

    Now this is a really inspirational challenging book, that will not just cut you to the quick, but restore you again with the power of grace, mercy and forgiveness. An amazing read, an amazing story and one that will leave you angry and sad at the brutality of humanity towards humanity, and inspired and hopeful about overcoming, surviving and forgiving. One of the best books I have read in a while.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bree

    Lovely, heartfelt story. Alice has witnessed some horrific events and suffered tremendous personal losses but has dedicated her life to improving the lives of others. Her passion for supporting opportunities for girls to access schooling and education shines through in the way she tells the story. Very inspiring lady.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This book was well written and detailed a very interesting story. I enjoyed every chapter of it because it was detailed and surprising. It was written in a way that you empathized with Alice but I didn’t feel the need to pitty her. She is strong, driven and a truly remarkable person. Keeping this book on my shelf for a future second read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    An amazing story of hope. Education is a so important for everyone. I was shocked at how little I knew about what happened in Uganda, this happened in my adult years. It made me realise how little news we hear about Africa and their struggles. I'm also left knowing htere is still so much healing and work to be done. An amazing story of hope. Education is a so important for everyone. I was shocked at how little I knew about what happened in Uganda, this happened in my adult years. It made me realise how little news we hear about Africa and their struggles. I'm also left knowing htere is still so much healing and work to be done.

  18. 4 out of 5

    WheeldonHS

    This was a very heavy read. Alice Achan's life is inconceivable to me but her resilience, determination, ingenuity, and hope is beyond inspirational. An important read for those of us who have grown up without the fear or experience of war. This was a very heavy read. Alice Achan's life is inconceivable to me but her resilience, determination, ingenuity, and hope is beyond inspirational. An important read for those of us who have grown up without the fear or experience of war.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Veronique

    Hard story to read but very inspiring

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Most horrendous & most hopeful non-fiction book I’ve ever read. On par with Corrie Ten Boom’s life story. Alice’s real faith in a real God in truly challenging war times & recovery.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brooke Alice (brookes.bookstagram)

    What a poignant, yet heartwarming story. Alice Achan has experienced such atrocity and multiple horrific events, and has used this trauma as a strength to be able to establish better education for those young children and women who greatly need it. This book and Alice’s story are truly remarkable.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    So enjoyed the narrators reading of this book. Her tone and expression added to the emotional journey

  23. 4 out of 5

    Margi Smith

    This is a brilliant read, heartbreaking, but inspirational.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kerry Finlay

    An inspirational woman who literally went through hell. But unfortunately I found the book somewhat tedious and not particularly well written.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Liz Robson

    This book is beautiful, devastating, hopeless and hopeful. If there’s only one book you read this year, make it this one.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Leona Silk

    Such a heartbreaking but inspiring book...amazing what these women have endured

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rachelle Du-Shane

    A truly important read on survival and the battle to bring about equality for women during a time of crisis!! You will be devastated and you will be inspired!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kerry Powell

  29. 5 out of 5

    thehoggle

  30. 4 out of 5

    Janna Lawson

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