Born in Northern Uganda, Dominic Akena was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and trained to be child solider at the age of nine.
“I don’t think I can ever push that memory away,” said Akena.
“Because in July of 2001, that was the first official night that the rebels broke into our village and burned buildings. Someone would say, ‘The rebels are coming, take your kids, take your stuff, run and go hide in the forest,'” Akena recalled.
“That’s the way people survived for a long time.”
Yet the one time Akena decided not to go and hide in the forest, that was the night he was abducted from his family.
“The LRA were constantly pushing us, beating us, intimidating us into submitting to them,” Akena said.
Child abductions have been going on in parts of Africa for years.
“One week after I was abducted, the LRA told us they were going start training us to be soldiers,” Akena said.
“We walked to meet the supreme leader, Ugandan Warlord Joseph Kony. It was that day I decided I didn’t want to be a child soldier. I didn’t want to be a killer.”
Before Akena’s 10th birthday, he said he managed to escape in the middle of the night and just kept running.
A week later, Akena found a refugee camp and that’s when he also found his family. It was in that camp, four years later, he would meet a pair of documentary filmmakers who would capture his story and ultimately change his life. Released in 2007, War Dance an Academy award-nominated documentary film of a child soldiers journey to survival.
“I wasn’t prepared to see me up there talking about my experience … because without a doubt I can say that without that documentary film, I wouldn’t be here,” Akena said.
“It turns out that a lot of people were inspired by it.”
So much so that Akena was invited to finish his education in Toronto on a full scholarship while living with a host family. In 2017, Akena enrolled in the documentary media program at Ryerson University.
“To look at documentaries as one of the tools that has a real effect,” Akena said.
“Personally, it moved me from one continent to the next and that’s a very powerful medium for me to continue pursuing.”
Akena’s documentary Safari, tells the story of two former child soldiers and their journey from Uganda to Toronto.
“Canada this community came together and built me up,” said Akena.
“There’s nothing more I can say other than the fact that Canada has been a home for ma as long as I’ve been here.”