While many Americans got their first look at one of the most vilified rebel leaders in the world through a viral video, a Brandon couple was already in Uganda working to pick up the pieces for hundreds of children left shattered in his path.
Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, marched across the African nation of Uganda for two decades, snatching young boys from their homes, forcing them to become child soldiers. Sometimes the boys were forced to kill their own parents.
Kony's followers raped countless young girls, leaving many pregnant and homeless.
Many in this country first became aware of the atrocities in February when a group called Invisible Children released a video on YouTube demanding the world find Kony and try him for his crimes.
Mike and Janelle Doud, two missionaries from BayLife Church in Brandon, learned about it much sooner. For 3 1/2 years, they have lived on the front line of recovery in southern Uganda at an orphanage called Village of Hope, where 200 young refugees are finding a new life. BayLife paid for the 100 acres on which the orphanage sits.
The couple is back home for the next five weeks, telling the stories of the brutality Kony wreaked on terrified villagers and the work they are doing to stabilize the children.
"Kony is absolutely a madman," Mike Doud said. "He used a toxic mix of bush magic and terrorism. His main weapon is that of terror." When Kony couldn't get people to follow him, he began stealing children from their homes, Doud said.
The civil war that started it all is over and Kony is gone from Uganda. The country's rebuilding has begun, Mike Doud said.
Village of Hope, near Kampala, Uganda, has roads, a deep well, eight group homes and an elementary school that runs on solar power. A library and computer lab are under construction.
Work is under way to start another boarding school north of there in Gulu, in a forest where Kony once staged his army. "Some of the worst atrocities of the war happened there," Mike Doud said.
"Our most important job is healing," he said. "We are taking care of 450 kids from the refugee camps and that's a drop in the bucket." There are about 2.5 million orphans in the country, he said.
Many of the girls left as child parents now act as house parents for the group homes, which each has a vegetable garden. The children go to school full time and have learned to tend bees and pigs they can sell. They make beads and tie-dyed bags to sell, as well.
The Douds are already seeing some success. "We've seen them come in malnourished and fearful because of the war and what happened to them," Janelle Doud said. "Many have gained weight and in general, they are happier now."
To learn more about Village of Hope, visit www.villageofhopeuganda.com.