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Amid misery, some thanks

Ronald Okello sleeps outside on the ground each night, wrapped in a blanket. The 14-year-old has seen too many fires to feel safe indoors.

Yet he's thankful to be alive. At the age of 9, Ronald, a Ugandan, and his older brother were kidnapped by the Lords Resistance Army. He would never see his brother again.

Tied with a rope and beaten, Ronald was forced to carry heavy loads for long distances.

The rebels ordered him to kill.

"I told them, 'I am not going to kill,' " Ronald, who was then tortured by his captors, told interviewers.

During a battle between the rebels and the Ugandan Army, Ronald ran, "to save my life," he recalled. He was shot, which cost him his right arm.

Errol Daniels, a documentarian from Williamsville, is getting ready this holiday season to journey to Africa to document the plight of kids like Ronald and hopefully alleviate their suffering.

After the boy was released from the hospital, he was moved to a refugee camp. Daniels, with another photographer, Stephen Shames, found Ronald last year in northern Uganda not far from Sudan.

"He hardly said a word and didn't smile," recalled Daniels, who is on the board of directors of a foundation raising school fees for AIDS orphans, escaped child soldiers, sex slaves and other young victims of war.

Ronald is finishing seventh grade.

"You should see him now," said Daniels, who also returned to Uganda earlier in the year. "He's alive, brightly shining, laughing and happy. Most importantly, he's in school and doing well."

While volunteering in the refugee camp, Daniels photographed teens like Ronald and recorded their stories with help from a translator. These kids also created drawings, illustrating their plight.

The work will be on exhibit in the spring at the Olean Public Library. It then goes in the fall to the Langston Hughes Institute in Buffalo.

As Ronald has shown, these children are resilient, and the Stephen Shames Foundation, partnering with Concern for the Future, gives them skills for a future, providing tuition, books, school supplies, medical care, food, clothing and emotional support.

Daniels became a photographer while active during the 1960s civil rights movement. But in the 1980s, a motor-neuron disease cost him the use of his hands, and he gave up photography. Yet, early in the next decade, he adapted to his disability with help from physical and occupational therapists, finding his way back to the camera. He also is involved in another organization, Both Your Hands, which forges a bond between communities and poor villages to promote global self-sufficiency.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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