Thursday, 23 April 2015

Photos of Simon's trip with LWF (Lutheran World Federation)

A slight detour when the tarmac comes to end and there is tree in the way

The bridge linking Uganda with South Sudan

Collection centre at Nimule, South Sudan

Overnight rooms at collection centre

Registration block at collection centre

Refugees just arriving at the Collection Centre

Shelters for refugee at transit centre

Community shelter for refugees at Transit Centre

Kitchen at Transit Centre

Water point at Transit Centre

Aerial view of Nzumazi Transit Centre

Women receiving sanitary supplies at the distribution point

Some of the children at the centre

Meeting camp leaders at settlement camp

Any complaints then put them in the box on the wall :)

Settlement Camp

Supplemental planting in Settlement camp

Pigeon breeding programme to provide addition food.  Does a pigeon taste like chicken?

One of the Settlement homes.  Look at what is written on the wall?

Proud people doing life in the camp together.

Solar water pumping station

Time for school.  There are a total of 3,000 children in the settlement camps who fit into 11 classrooms and 17 teachers provide them with education.  How is that for a ratio?

Aerial view of settlement camp l

Aerial view of settlement camp 2


LWF seedling project

LWF Stockpiles of blankets on the left and food on the right

The path of a refugee

Gulu, Nimule and Adjumani trip in FRM

Last week I had the opportunity to ride along with LWF (Lutheran World Federation) and a group of various LWF country directors and their CEO and second in command from Geneva. The idea was to trace the steps of a Sudanese refugee entering Uganda and in the process look at the various work that LWF is involved in.

Our trip started at Kajjansi, the MAF Uganda base where I flew us all in MAF’s Cessna 208 5X-FRM up to Gulu. The program director of Mozambique had nearly cancelled the trip when she heard that part of the trip included a flight on a “small” airplane. She was very impressed on landing in Gulu that she had actually enjoyed the flight. We were soon on a nice tarmac road heading northwards towards Nimule. A little over halfway there a large tree lay across the road and from there we slowly wound our way on terrible dirt tracks right next to the tarmac which is in the process of being completed. Mostly  all goods trucks driving to Juba (capital of South Sudan) now take this route as from Nimule a decent tarmac road has been built all the way to Juba. However, passing these Uganda and Kenya trucks was near impossible on the dirt road. We finally reached the border and pulled into the collection center set up by LWF for arriving refugees. Here the Nile is fast flowing and the bridge that crosses the Nile and connects South Sudan and Uganda is the only safe way to cross the border. One of the first things the refugees see once they’ve walked over the bridge is the collection center. Here they are registered and given some basic items including high energy biscuits and with its own bore hole on site are required to have a good wash. Many of these refugees by now have spent many days or even weeks on the road to escape the fighting in order to reach safety.

The refugees are driven the same day or the next day if they arrive later in the evening to the nearby transit center. It is near but the road still makes it another grueling drive. At the transit center the first thing one sees is the row of large tents. There are currently around 400 refugees here waiting to be assigned their final location in a settlement. During peak times when over 1000 refugees were arriving every day there were many times that number awaiting their plot numbers from the OPM (Office of the Prime Minister). Here the refugees are fed while their biometrics are taken and basic research is done to find possible family connections already living in one of the settlements. The average stay in the transit center is between 7 and 14 days after which the family is assigned to a settlement.

There are various settlements that have been established in the area, the biggest one currently numbering about 27’000. Local land owners have leased their land to the government on which these settlements are being built. Rather than isolating the refugees into camps they are being integrated into the local communities. Though the initial influx of refugees some two years ago overwhelmed the government, NGO’s and UN the collaboration soon took on a determined approach to managing the refugees better. Rather than everyone doing “their” thing, all projects were to be streamlined through the government. As a result infrastructure that is now being built will not sit unused out in nowhere once the settlements are closed when the refugees once again return to their home country. Rather the schools and hospitals and water infrastructure will then continue to serve the local people.

The local population has been very receptive to the plight of their neighbors. I believe they vividly remember the 20 some years when they themselves were refugees in their own country because of the LRA and their war against the government and their own people. Their big hearts and enormous capacity for compassion and understanding to their fellow Africans now having to tread down the same desperate road of conflict - which none of them wants – is evident. The settlements are arranged in blocks and each block has trained personnel who themselves are refugees who oversee the running of their respective blocks. They themselves work under the settlement leader. The interaction with the local community is constant as small items of potential conflicts are brought to the table and talked over and resolved in a timely manner.

One thing that struck me most was the difference to the IDP’s (InternaIly displaced people) witnessed many times more than 10 years ago. I remember the terrible condition of the IDP camps on overnight trips in the North of Uganda, over-crowded with desperate people oozing desperation in all aspects of their daily life. Children with vacant eyes and many a teenage mother barely old enough to take care of herself not to mention her own children or the children of extended family who had lost both parents. Or standing on the streets of Gulu in the diminishing day light witnessing 1000 upon 1000 of children walking into the perceived safety of the town to sleep wherever they could find some shelter rather than having to sleep in the bush of the nearby villages that were prone to attacks and abductions.

Here in the settlement there was vibrancy and the constant background noise of a “village” in which life and community and fellowship was happening. I saw people who stood proud despite their circumstances. I saw the hope that things “might just work out okay”. Kids were running around playing and being kids. Nearby a ladies distribution was going on for female concessions. In the distance a soccer game was producing the expectant shouts a soccer game anywhere in the world produces.

We sat down with the settlement leaders and were able to listen to their concerns and problems. LWF listened carefully and replied to each and every one of the items mentioned. Some were out of their scope of work though they continue to advocate for the people in those areas to the relevant NGO’s. Others that fall under their scope were elaborated on. I was impressed at the professionalism of LWF and their deep deep commitment to their work. It didn’t come across as “us helping you poor people” but “us being here because we love you and want to work alongside you until you hopefully can return home”.

Yes, there are some problems that seem nearly insurmountable but many of the other LWF Country Directors explained how this set-up was working really well and so much better than their equivalent programs in the countries they are working in. One major contributor to this overall positive situation is the government of Uganda.

A further drive on the same bumpy roads finally brought us to Adjumani town where LWF and UNHCR have their regional headquarters. It was 7.30pm and we were all tired and ready for dinner and our beds.

In the morning we visited another settlement nearby after which we drove back down to Gulu and climbed into the plane for our flight back down to Kajjansi. We landed at 5.30pm.   Jesse who is the Country Director of LWF in Uganda then passed on the good news that 92’000 dollars had just been confirmed and allocated for the rehabilitation of the Adjumani airstrip. They hope to tender out the job and have the airstrip open within the next month or two. This will significantly help them and a handful of other NGO’s working in the settlements cut down on travelling time and costs.

The 15 kilometers drive from Kajjansi to the MAF office took me well over one hour due to blocked traffic on the tarmac roads. Not difficult to endure compared to the plight of the tens of thousands of refugees finding themselves caught in a conflict none of them want to be part of...