To see 16-year-old Otto bent over a desk with his teacher going over class work, one would never guess the trauma that he has seen in his short life. He is tall, fairly confident and appears to be concerned about understanding the English lesson - like any other adolescent school boy. It is only when he lifts his head that you notice the scars on his face and the way his nose has a darker pigment than the rest of his skin.
If he were a boy in Europe you would think, perhaps, that Otto had been in a car crash, or maybe had fallen through a window. But once you know that Otto is from northern Uganda and lived the first twelve years of his life during a civil war, you might guess at other fates - a machete wound? Or even a gunshot?
The truth is that Otto's injuries were caused after he was kidnapped by the notorious Lord's Resistance Army, which regularly abducted children to be used as child soldiers and sex slaves. In one sense Otto was lucky. His abductors were ambushed by the Ugandan army shortly after taking him and other children, and Otto was rescued. Other children have been kept for years to service the rag-tag rebel army, often dying on the battlefield or suffering grizzly deaths at the hands of their masters. But even though Otto was freed soon after being taken, he was shot in the crossfire of the ambush, incurring serious facial injuries that left him without a nose, only partial hearing, and in terrible pain.
Otto is taken to Nairobi
SOS Children's Villages co-workers were in northern Uganda in May 2002 when they found Otto in a reception centre. They were there to investigate the possibility of establishing a children's village in Gulu to cater for the freed abductees and the children born in captivity. Since other agencies had been unable to find sponsorship for Otto's much needed surgery, the co-workers decided to take him back to Nairobi where he was treated, free of charge, by a plastic surgeon. Otto moved into a family house at SOS Children's Village Nairobi and underwent several operations to rebuild his nose and his ear, where the bullet had entered. His nose was partially restored but there was still a lot of reconstruction to be done, and when Placet, an organisation that provides plastic and reconstructive surgery to victims of terror, war, torture, etc., offered treatment to children from SOS Children's Villages, Otto's name was the first to be put forward from East Africa.
Otto spent ten months at SOS Children's Village Berlin under the care of an SOS mother. Reconstruction of his face was not easy and Otto estimates that he underwent up to seven operations before the surgeons were happy that they had done all they could. Professor Peter Frank led the team from Placet, which also replaced a facial nerve, and Dr. Helmut Fischer, one of the most renowned plastic surgeons in the field of nose reconstruction came to Berlin to create a new nose for Otto. Otto's recuperation took seven months and he finally arrived back at the Nairobi village last August.
Been through a lot
In his short life Otto has had many experiences. From a normal boy living his childhood in Uganda, Otto became an innocent victim of a brutal war and suffered unbearable pain. Through his suffering Otto has also learnt about compassion - the compassion of one person for another - and through this compassion he slowly began the long and painful road to recovery, starting at SOS Children's Village Nairobi. In the village, Otto learnt how to be a boy again - to live with a family, to go to school, to make friends and to play with them, in a secure and peaceful environment far from the horrors of war.
Otto has also experienced incredible generosity and love from many people. He has known the love of his two SOS mothers, Gladys in Nairobi and Christina in Berlin, who have cared for him as if he was their own. And the generosity has come from many people, including the doctors and nurses who were prepared to give their time and valuable skills before they had even met Otto, in reconstructive surgery that would allow him to resume a normal, active and painless life within his community.
Otto has also had the experience that many boys dream of, but few achieve at his age - he has travelled to Europe where he learnt about new languages and cultures and made many new friends. Now that he is back in Nairobi he has resumed school. Before the term began, he had a private tutor who spent two hours a day with him, helping him to catch up with the work he missed. "He is really keen and he is catching up very fast", Otto's tutor asserted, and Otto added that he was really eager to learn more, especially English and maths.
Recently, the National Director of SOS Children's Villages Uganda, William Damilura, visited Otto in Nairobi. For Otto, William is a father figure and his visit was a welcome boost to his confidence, making him feel that he is still part of the 'SOS Uganda family'. William commented how happy he was to see Otto looking so well. He is also delighted that Otto is making plans for the future. He is looking forward to completing his school education and to beginning his training in mechanical engineering at SOS Vocational Training Centre Nairobi - something he aspires to.
But despite his plans for the future, Otto will never forget Germany. He misses all his new friends and hopes that they will come to visit him in Africa one day. And to the doctors he has only one thing to say, but it comes from the bottom of his heart: Thank you!