Tag Archives: UNHCR Checkpoint

6-New Testament

Establishing Shot of Pagirinya Refugee Settlement

I had spent one hour on the bus trying to organize my notes for this blog post. I had spent the time at the UN checkpoint talking with Judith, a worker giving out soap, sanitary kits, and wristbands. She has the dream of traveling the globe to see how people from other cultures live.

I would continue with her story, but the note got deleted. I was trying to take a picture of some trucks on a dusty road while typing. I ended up highlighting everything and deleting it. I forgot how easy it is for things to just stop existing. I wasn’t particularly upset because it was facts. Much like my previous posts, it would have just been a bunch of facts someone told me about the refugees. It didn’t have much of me in it. It wasn’t really my blog. I have been keeping up this trend so that I don’t have to share my personal thoughts on what I see throughout the day. There is always someone whose voice is better than mine. The outline of their stories is similar while the details vary widely. All this changes with this post because I deleted Judith’s thoughts.

But first, a few of her thoughts that I do remember. One thing that really surprised me was when she said that some fathers in South Sudan kidnap their own daughters from the camps so that they can get married. She said these are done for cultural reasons and economic reasons. To them, it is normal. For certain cultures, the children belong to the father instead of belonging to both parents. However, the most peculiar cultural tradition I heard was that women weren’t allowed to eat chicken. One of the better parts of the cultures here is the value they place on education. Most refugees are young boys because families want to give their children a future through education. The education in Uganda is very good. People from Kenya and Tanzania even come here to study. Female education isn’t valued as much. Most of these refugees come from the war zones in the middle of the country. The north is in the control by the Nuer, and the south is controlled by the Dinka. Refugees have to literally give up everything to be here.

Now, for my thoughts. Before coming on the trip, I had heard about the harshness of refugee life. Not knowing much about refugee life, I pictured the worst. I thought there would be emaciated people everywhere and people sleeping without any shelter. I’d imagined trash and the stench of sewage everywhere. Most of these preconceived notions came from the urban poverty I saw in India. So, when I actually saw the settlements, I was very surprised. People had huts just like the Acholi farmers we had seen on the way here. There were small farms and animals roaming around. It was relatively clean and smelled like the rest of Uganda. It didn’t seem that bad. If I had lost everything but my family, I would be pretty fortunate to have a place like this to live. I would even say some homeless people in America have worse lives than some of the refugees here. They don’t have to deal with the freezing cold, they have a nice hut and small farm, and they are looked upon with pity instead of contempt. My heart was filled with joy that humanity had become so compassionate that these people who had lost everything still had a lot going for them, that people still cared.

My thoughts were changed as I talked to the refugees. There are still a lot of problems like the food shortages, the lack of jobs, the death of family members, the traumatic experiences, and losing everything which tore apart this sunny visage. The clearest example is the school. There is a big brick school building. To me, that is amazing that they were able to find the land, teachers, and money to build it. I assumed all of this from just looking at the building. The building was a sham. The amount of overcrowding, lack of scholastic materials, and lack of food barely qualify it as a school.
I am still not completely moved. I feel bad for the refugees and their situation, but the international community has done pretty well to take care of them. They have food for the most part and shelter. Water comes from bore holes. Yes, their situation isn’t anywhere close to ideal. But, given that they were forced to flee a war and came here with nothing, they aren’t doing terribly.