Levi McGrath was both horrified and inspired when he heard the story of former child soldier Grace Arach.
A few years ago, the Bendigo singer-songwriter and his wife spent six months living in Uganda working at a rehabilitation centre for child soldiers.
It was there they met Ms Arach, who was working voluntarily at the centre helping children and young people like herself find refuge and hope.
Ms Arach was abducted into the Lord’s Resistance Army at only 12 years old, then married as a child bride to a leader of the LRA, a union in which where she was repeatedly raped by a brutal commander.
Rescued and brought to a rehabilitation centre, Ms Arach had one dream – to gain an education.
Thanks to the support of a World Vision sponsor, Ms Arach’s dream came true, going back to primary school as a 17-year-old near-adult. Within 10 years and by the time she met the McGraths, she was studying at university.
McGrath’s wife nominated Ms Arach for a Ugandan Woman of the Year award, which she subsequently won. As part of her prize, she received the opportunity to come and study in Australia.
She now lives in Sydney and is a social worker with a masters degree in international development from the University of New South Wales.
Currently, McGrath and Ms Arach are touring regional Victoria, inspiring others and raising awareness of the issues in Uganda through a night of song and conversation.
“This rebel group, the LRA, had abducted more than 30,000 kids to become child soldiers. We were just horrified at that number,” McGrath said.
“We got there and all these statistics we’d heard – two million being displaced by this war – became reality when we met them and put faces to their incredible stories.
“That’s where we met Grace. She was at the actual centre where we worked. She was working there voluntarily to help counsel and rehabilitate these young kids. Checking on their mental health was her main role.”
McGrath said meeting Ms Arach and hearing the stories of Ugandan child soldiers had provided a turning point in his career.
“I’ve been performing around Australia for the last 10 years in churches and schools and pubs, but this was really the turning point for my music – attaching it to a purpose or cause – and it really brought my songwriting alive,” he said.
The pair will speak and perform at World Vision’s A Night of Hope this Friday at the York Street Church of Christ. Doors open at 6.30pm. Event is free.