Twenty thousand South Sudanese refugees who fled the violence in their country are staying at a camp supported by Samaritan's Purse in Uganda.
The camp in western Uganda is different from those in South Sudan. Here, there is greenery. The housing situation appears to be slightly better. By most appearances, the refugees seem to be better off.
But the residents in this camp face significant struggles too. Since December, the population has grown from 5,000 to 20,000, leaving Samaritan’s Purse staff overwhelmed with the needs. And while the conditions may be slightly better, these South Sudanese refugees face the same tragedies that their displaced families and friends face in the camps in their homeland.Help South Sudanese RefugeesRebecca worked in a ministry in South Sudan. She shared her home with her husband and three small children. Life was good. But on December 15, everything changed.
Fighting erupted in South Sudan, and life became much harder. Rebecca endured for as long as she could, but in February, she uprooted her children and headed toward safety.
Her husband, like many other men, stayed behind. She was left to make the journey with her three children and her aging father-in-law. Along the way, she picked up four other children whose families were either dead or separated. She traveled toward Juba and then toward Uganda. She took nothing with her.As she traveled, she received news from others who were running for safety. Her father had died while trying to escape. Rebecca explained that when people run away, they run to where they feel safe. She and her father did not run together.
A few days later, she arrived at Kiryandongo Refugee Camp in western Uganda. Everyone in her group was safe. They were given plastic sheeting for shelter and a food ration. Nine people now sleep underneath the tarp and share the food.
“It is difficult to take care of my children here because when we were in southern Sudan, our kids, they have meat,” Rebecca said. “But here, in the refugee camp, you get only that small portion. So most of the babies now are sick.”
A young man named Arii stays in a house fairly close to Rebecca. He has been in the camp since fighting started in December. He is alone. Although he has made friends, his brothers and parents are still in South Sudan.
“I left South Sudan because of conflict,” Arii said. “I saw the killing of people. There is also robbery.”
Samaritan’s Purse is in the camp to meet the most basic of needs by providing food in partnership with the World Food Programme. All the refugees receive grains, beans, and cooking oil each month. It isn’t enough food to completely fill empty bellies, but it lessens the pangs of hunger.Because the camp grew so rapidly, the needs are far greater than the capacity to meet them. Rebecca wishes that her children could attend school, but the only school is in town, and it’s too far away for her 6-year-old to walk. Arii sees a need for leaders in the camp, and he hopes he can be someone to meet that need.
“I prayed for my life, and I pray for people who are still in southern Sudan,” he said.
Sometimes, prayer is the only way to treat the invisible wounds that refugees carry into the camp. They have seen death, and they have seen rape. Some of them have never lived in a time of peace.
“Usually, when you’re dealing with a refugee, it has a lot of aspects that are attached to it,” said Martha Engole, a Samaritan’s Purse staff member working here. “One of the aspects is the psychological pain that they go through.”
Rebecca said that she doesn’t know if some of her family members are still alive. She has no way to communicate with her husband. Arii said he wants to go back home and be reunited with his family, but he is afraid he will be killed if he returns.
These problems are overwhelming and traumatic, and perhaps more than anything, the refugees need encouragement.
“We still reach out to them and say, ‘It’s not just us as Samaritan’s Purse,’” Martha said. “‘It’s God working, hoping to empower you, hoping to reach out to other communities.’”With the hope that God is working in the refugees’ lives, they can face the unknown future. Although things can never entirely be the same, Rebecca and Arii hope to one day continue the lives they used to live.
“For me, I hope for the future education of my children,” Rebecca said.
A safe future in South Sudan is unimaginable right now, but God can work in hopeless situations. Please pray for Rebecca, Arii, their families, and the thousands of others who have fled their homes to find safety in Uganda. Pray that God will meet their emotional needs, that Samaritan’s Purse will have the resources to meet their physical needs, and that one day, they will see a life of peace.