Hervey Bay woman helping former child soldiers in Uganda
FOR Ronni Jeffery, the overnight trek to Amononeno-abako was exhausting and seemingly endless.
However she knew the challenge was nothing compared to that faced by the inhabitants of the small Ugandan village caught up in the nightmare of war.
The remote village sits outside the African town of Lira. Sadly, this also placed it beyond the reach of prominent non-government organisations.
On their way, Pastor James explained they were pushing through the same tall grass that was used as camouflage by soldiers of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army who raided the village one afternoon many years ago.
Amononeno-abako was one of the first massacre sites of the Kony-led attacks in northern Uganda, also making it one of the most fractured villages with three generations of child ex-soldiers traumatised by war.
A world away, on Hervey Bay's esplanade and the restaurants begin to fill with the Friday afternoon crowd celebrating the end of the working week.
In a scene reminiscent of her old life where she thrived in a number of highly ambitious executive roles, Ronni Jeffery sits with an iced coffee and reflects on how once she reached the top of her field she came to discover a different direction in life.
"My first visit was to South Africa in 2003," She said.
"I was taking my then disgruntled 15-year-old daughter who thought she had a tough life."
This proved to have a salutary effect as, five years later, on her 21st birthday, Ronni's daughter left for Africa where she would spend three months in Uganda volunteering her time teaching at an orphanage.
Ronni says it was during this time that she received a call from her daughter.
"She said 'mum, they could really use your skills over here'.
"And so I went."
As a single mum for 17 years, Ronni had managed to find the time to build a career over 30 years of working in vocational training.
A large proportion of her experience revolved around working with vulnerable and marginalised people and assisting them into the workforce.
Ronni says this gave her the background skills she could use to develop a rehabilitation program aimed at helping displaced peoples, particularly children of war, rebuild their communities in the worst affected parts of northern Uganda.
Eventually, through her efforts in rehabilitation and teaching, Ronni crossed paths with Pastor James Omara.
His organisation, Africa Training Ministries, is now officially partnered with Ronni's Mercy Seat Mission.
Together, the two organisations have developed a school in Uganda which aims to teach war-torn communities a range of skills with the hope that it will one day lead to a self-sustainable future.
Part of this program teaches communities the skills to tell their stories through art which can then be sold both at home and abroad.
While she will soon be heading back to Uganda, part of the reason for Ronni's return to Hervey Bay has been to arrange an auction of these art works in order to raise money for the families she works with back in Africa.
"There has just been overwhelming support from this community in Hervey Bay," she said.
"The venue for the auction has been donated, the framing for the art has been donated and my son has also gotten involved, volunteering his time as the auctioneer.
"This is just a generally giving community."
The charity auction to raise funds to counsel former child soldiers will be held at the Waterfront Restaurant on April 10 from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. Tickets can be bought from Hervey Bay Baptist Church.