lost two adult children because of
this conflict. One died and one
disappeared when the war started.
“War ruins everything,” says
Dorothy DeVuyst, Samaritan
Purse’s regional director for Africa.
Conflict damages crops and destroys water supplies. It makes safe
travel almost impossible. Neighbour is set against neighbour, and
families tear apart. Fathers and
sons are killed or recruited by force.
War makes rape a weapon of war,
and this conflict in particular is
known for its sexual violence
against women. Countless women
in this settlement have infants
strapped to their backs in a swaddling cloth. There are charming
babies everywhere you look. That
doesn’t mean, of course, that all
these beautiful, surprisingly quiet
children were conceived from rape,
but it’s likely some of them were.
These women, hauling water,
lugging food, herding kids and
braiding each other’s hair are creating a new life out of almost nothing.
They are making a home out of a
It’s mostly women and children
alone who make the hard journey.
The UN reports women and children make up 86 per cent of the
refugees trudging through bush, and
hiding from rebels and government
forces alike on their way through
their war-wrecked country across
the border to northern Uganda.
I speak with Viola, 20, sitting
against the huge wheel of a parked
truck that transports emergency
food rations. Her baby is wrapped
in a batik cloth and is peacefully
asleep. Viola walked with her own
mother to come here “because of
the war,” she says. Most people
killed people there, she says. Here,
in Uganda, she feels safe.
Uganda is practising a kind of
rugged and expansive national
hospitality that can make Canada’s
decision to welcome 25,000 Syr-
ians seem like a gesture, like invit-
ing a neighbour over for tea instead
of the entire street for supper.
Stephen Irumba works for Sam-
aritan’s Purse in Uganda. He ex-
plains Uganda’s open and progres-
sive refugee policy – no caps on
numbers, open borders, small plots
of government land given to fam-
ilies that make up these settlements
(no one here calls them “camps”),
and freedom to come and go – is
part of the DNA of the Pearl of Af-
rica, surrounded as it is by countries
more often at war than not.
Irumba is proud to be Ugandan.
You can tell. Uganda is in the thick
of it, accustomed to welcoming
troubled neighbours, a good host
partly because they have not forgot-
ten their own times of trouble (re-
member Idi Amin?). Some of
Uganda’s current leadership grew
up in refugee camps themselves,
says Irumba, and have a heart for
those going through the same thing.
Host communities receive some
foreign aid as well. For example, if
a Canadian charity provides health
services to refugees here, local
Ugandans can visit the doctor too.
If a well is dug, everyone can draw
clean water. If a school is provided,
local kids can attend too. It’s both
compassionate and strategic.
“The leaders of the current gov-
ernment were in exile. They know
what is good for refugees,” explains
Irumba. “People at the top under-
stand what it’s like to be a refugee.
Jane Janoba cares for her grandchildren at the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement.
REFUGEES NO W IN