BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Deep in the bush of Northern Uganda, you'll find the women of Life Beads Africa.
Each mother carries a different story, each song masks a painful past and each piece of jewelry marks a new beginning. Beads are carefully crafted with recycled construction paper, rolled then dipped into a gloss then sold in the U.S.
"God has given me some talents," said Grace, a former child soldier and commander, who now works as an artisan with Life Beads Africa. "I feel really very proud."
The jewelry provides mothers with more than just a monthly income, it offers them something completely foreign.
"You can see the joy," said Life Beads Africa director and Auburn native, Kimberly Barbrey. "You can see it in their eyes and in their smiles."
All of which is new to them.
"They've known war, they've known poverty, they've known abuse, but love is new to them," said Four Corners Ministry missionary and Jemison native, Myron West.
Since 1986, the Lord's Resistance Army has murdered over 100,000 Northern Ugandans, forced over 1.7 million villagers to flee their homes and abducted over 30,000 children giving them the choice--become child soldiers and sex slaves or be killed immediately. The group's led by international terrorist, Joseph Kony.
"They catch me on June 1996," said Irene, a farm hand on the Four Corners Ministries campus in Uganda, who was also a child soldier and sex slave. "They take us to Sudan teaching us how to use guns and start killing people. I have to do it. There is no other way."
The stories are endless.
"I felt so hurt," said Beatrice, an artisan with Life Beads Africa and former child soldier/sex slave. "They slept with my mom. They take my dad inside the house and burned him."
Children were the target. Some taken as early as 5 years old.
"I don't know anything because I was young," said Scovia, an artisan with Life Beads Africa and former child soldier/sex slave. "I just feel like maybe it's normal. They just tell you if you cry, they will kill you."
In 2007, Joseph Kony and the LRA left Northern Uganda to move into bordering countries, but the refugees are still suffering. While most nonprofits have since left the country, two years ago a new one stepped in, Four Corners Ministries, based in Opelika, Alabama.
"Joy in the midst of struggle." That's how Kristopher Mobbs, the incoming executive director of Four Corners Ministries, describes the Acholi people. Mobbs moved to Uganda with his family and will return next year to take over the ministry.
"We have a problem with being content in our country and you come out here and they have a home made out of grass and a dirt floor, yet they are still smiling," Mobbs said.
Now survivors, they are learning what it means to love and be loved.
"The way God has worked out his plan I'm now peaceful," said Jennifer, the Four Corners Ministry Children's Director. "Not seeing a gun, not hearing any bullets, I was not even expecting that to happen."
"We hope to see a community that moves on, (A community) that can forget the war. (Today) there are no bombs falling from the sky. It's just rain, it's just crops. Neighbors can help neighbors without fear," West added.
Living together as brothers and sisters many have found joy in the ability to forgive those who persecuted them.
When asked for one word to describe her life since Four Corners Ministries introduced her to Life Beads Africa Scovia said: "To forgive. To forgive one another that's what I love."
Families from Gardendale, Jemison, Auburn, Atlanta, Opelika and Birmingham have moved to Northern Uganda to serve the needs of the Acholi people.
All of the Lifebeads Africa jewelry is sold in the Four Corners Ministries office in Opelika, Alabama. You can purchase any of the necklaces or bracelets by visiting https://www.etsy.com/shop/lifebeadsafrica . You can also learn more about Four corners by visiting their website: http://fourcorners.org/.