Tag Archives: South Sudan

A Frisbee’s Throw Away

When we stopped for a day in the border town of Moyo, the plan was to get an understanding of, as well as footage for a receiving and distribution center, and those going through the process. As I was on b-roll team, we were done earlier than the other group, who was following a specific family through the steps. To pass the time, some of us pulled out a frisbee we had and started tossing it around in the middle of the compound. We attracted a lot of attention quickly from the children around us, and in just minutes, we had several join us in a circle to toss it around. Despite them having likey never seen the object before in their life, and only our example to follow on, some of them picked up on it extremely quickly. No matter how often a throw was accurate or a catch was made, they had smiles all the way around.

While this experience was certainly a memorable one for the kids, I think it will resonate with me just as much. Being able to make an impact on them that’s noticeable in their expressions, and providing a few laughs between what they’ve recently gone through? It’s surreal. The bridge connecting South Sudan and Uganda loomed just a few kilometers away. What they came to know, the life they left behind, they were truthfully hardly removed from. Being able to interact with people who have gone through what they did, all the while close to the country that drove them out, was a staggering experience I never thought I’d have.

Reflections on Uganda

Being back in Omaha, after almost three weeks in Uganda, is a very surreal experience. I’m not sure whether it’s the jet-lag from over 40 hours of travel or something else, but I’m having having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I’m no longer in Uganda. This morning I woke up half expecting to have to untangle myself from a mosquito net and take a freezing cold shower before stumbling over to a breakfast of Chipati and African tea in Adjumani. Instead, I woke up at about 6:00 am and stumbled over out of the extra dorm room that Andrew had lent me for the backpack journalism trip and took a warm shower before heading to the on campus Starbucks for breakfast.

Some might argue that I’m just having Chipati and African tea withdrawal, but I actually think that something deeper is going on. I think that my body and mind are in denial of the fact that my time in Africa has come to a close. Everything has felt out of wack since arriving back to the United States and more specifically Omaha. Time has felt slower, I’ve been in a mental fog, and all I can think about is my experience in Uganda. Specifically, the image of Betty, the woman we interviewed at the Palorinya Settlement, defiantly screaming at U.N. World Food Program officials about the quality of the rations being given to the refugees  in the middle of our interview. The fact that this woman who had lost seemingly everything was willing to stand up and fight for both her own and her fellow refugees dignity showed the strength and courage of the South Sudanese refugee community in Uganda.

This image of strength and defiance showed by Betty has really stuck with me and been one of the most impactful moments of the entire filmmaking trip. I just cannot stop replaying the whole scene in my head. I dreamt about it the first night back from Uganda. I then proceeded to dream about it again when I fell asleep watching some YouTube videos to try and help me relax during our day off yesterday. There was just something so powerful about a woman who had lost everything and recently had a surgery that left her body scarred and slightly disfigured standing up for herself and her community in the face of injustice. She could have so easily just accepted the meager rations and moved on with her life of sorrow inside of the refugee settlement; but instead she took no prisoners as she fought for a better standard of living in her makeshift community in Uganda.

The rest of my experiences inside of the Ugandan refugee settlements were less inspiring and positive than my impromptu interview with Betty. Everywhere we went people spoke about the great deal of need that existed in their communities. At the Maaji Refugee Settlment, we interviewed a grandmother who was caring for her three young grandchildren that hadn’t yet been registered as persons living in the settlement. The woman only spoke Ma’Di and was exasperated with her whole situation. Her daughter was missing and presumed dead, her son-in-law was killed during the civil war in South Sudan, and she was in very poor health trying to care for her three grandchildren on rations only meant for one person.

Following up the interview with the Ma’Di speaking grandmother we interviewed a very active member of the St. Vincent Chapel community who was a single mother caring for her there biological children as well as three foster children who she had taken into her meager home after discovering that they were orphans a few years ago. She spoke about how her immense faith in God and Christ were the only things that were keeping her going. In order to share and maintain her faith she started the women’s prayer group and faith learning communities for St. Vincent’s Chapel. Along with her inspiring story of faith immense generosity, she spoke about he need for both academic and economic opportunities for people within the settlement. Maaji, one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, houses over 150,000 refugees and has a pathetic lack of academic and economic opportunities for its residents. Those with skills are unable to get jobs and in turn sit idle all day long leading to increased restlessness and crime. Children who would otherwise be in school are left to run amuck since there are far too few schools and even fewer families that can afford the fees necessary to enroll their children in said schools.

These interviews left a feeling of helplessness that starkly contrasted the pure joy and elation that we witnessed from the St. Vincent Chapel community as they welcomed us to the Ma’Di ceremony a mere three hours after we were originally supposed to be there for Sunday mass. The love of God that these people had was unlike anything that I had witnessed in a long time. Despite their hardships, these people had absolute love and faith in God. This Love was shown through dance, song, and the opening of their community to us who were complete strangers.

In the end, these experiences with the South Sudanese refugees in their settlements in Northern Uganda are the lasting memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. These are the experiences that have and will continue to shape the reality in which I live out the rest of my life. To tell you the truth, I don’t think that I will feel as though I have ever truly returned from Uganda. A part of my very being will always carry with it the experiences of this backpack journalism trip in Uganda. You could say that this is both a blessing and a curse. The wonderful strength, beauty, and resilience of Uganda will stay with me as something I was blessed the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. At the same time the vast sorrow and suffering of Uganda are my curse and a cross that I must now bear and must work to change.

In a strange way, I feel honored to have received this “curse” from my experience in Uganda. It will serve as a constant reminder of how blessed I am and an ever present motivator that drives me to end injustices that I see in the world. I just pray that I can make the most of this wonderful opportunity that I have been given through CU Backpack Journalism.

3-Refugee Worker: Betty

Diagram on a school building at St. Mary’s Adjumani Girls’ Secondary School

Betty worked for JRS in Adjumani until it was discontinued. She helped train primary-school teachers. She did so well that JRS helped fund her Bachelor’s degree. She went to JRS South Sudan where she helped train primary teachers. She had to flee the country when the civil war began, making her a refugee herself. She was in a hotel meeting when the war was breaking out. There were soldiers there who made sure that no one left and no one came in. She managed to escape by hiding beneath a covered cart that was used for resupplying the hotel. Her rescuers then took her out of the country in a van.

She started one month ago here at JRS Adjumani. JRS Adjumani focuses mainly on education. They try to aim for 50:50 boy to girl ratio for students. It is harder to fill all the spots for girls because of the great challenges they face. Fortunately, this is Betty’s expertise. She is the assistant education officer and helps train teachers in adolescent development. They are aided by career guidance counselors who help direct students to take certain classes so that they can fulfill their dreams. Counselors help students get past traumatic experiences and family problems. Teachers and tutors also teach study skills. Betty focuses on girls’ education because of the many challenges they face. One challenge that is unique to girls is the lack of sanitation pads for menstruation. Away from home, they need all their basic supplies like clothes and soap to survive. A bigger challenge is early marriage. Parents can force their children to marry for economic or cultural reasons. Girls can be as young as 10 although most are 15 or 16. For some tribes it is quite common. Boarding schools are the best way to break the cycle. The Ugandan government is catching on and is helping prevent child marriage through its laws.

Primary school is where education starts. Children learn English, math, social studies, and science. The curriculum differs by country. They incorporate local culture by teaching the local language, local dances, and local music. School is hard at the beginning, but the students eventually get the hang of it. The best part is that the students can get individual help from their teachers. Even the parent teacher association can get involved and help the teacher out. Parents can come into classrooms and help the teacher keep order.

All of Ugandan education points to university. Although a degree doesn’t guarantee employment, having a university degree increases the chances for getting a job and increases the chances for getting a better job. Graduates will usually remain close to where they graduate. Employers mainly look at qualifications above all else, and nothing says you’re more qualified than a degree or perhaps some experience. Those who drop out can go to vocational training. They finish with a skill and a start up kit to help them do their skill. Those who don’t go to vocational training can become idle and turn to drinking.

The behavior of a teacher is just as important as what they teach. There has been a lot of change in recent decades. Caneing used to be prevalent in schools. A teacher could get a stick and whack a child’s bottom if they got an answer wrong or if they behaved badly. Sticks from coffee trees lasted the longest. Now, caneing has been in sharp decline. The focus is on positive discipline like standing in consternation. Furthermore, each country has developed it’s own ethical code for teachers to follow.

No matter where students land, they will have learned about peacebuilding because of school. Classrooms are mixed with people from all tribes. They learn they are all humans first instead of tribes first. The peacebuilding doesn’t stop in the classroom. People from tribes who have hated each other like the Dinka and Neur go through education programs hosted by NGOs. It used to be that the Dinka, who have the power in the South Sudanese government, couldn’t stay in the same refugee camps as the people from the other tribes because violence would break out. That is no longer the case in many camps. There are also peacebuilding efforts between the host communities and refugees so that they can understand each other’s struggles. The host communities are even willing to give more land for those refugees who need a lot of food and therefore more farm land.

It is great that so many people are able to carry on with life when their homes have been destroyed. It looks like they will have to keep carrying on as the situation in South Sudan looks grim. Even the peace talks fail. The good thing is Uganda will probably not fall into the same situation. Ugandans have a strong fear of God and listen to the bishops. The people have seen the mess that resuts from conflict and don’t want it to happen to them. Plus, most Ugandans don’t have guns like almost 75%of the population in South Sudan just before the war.