Friday, January 31, 2014

South Sudan Photo Essay

The following is a small selection of images I took during our time with the UN in the South Sudan Adjumani Refugee Camp. More photos can be seen here

This South Sudanese mother to be takes a moment to rest in the Maternity Health Clinic in Adjumani. After fleeing the war in her home country, this mother faces an uncertain future for herself and her baby. 

These children are holding their parents place in line for water at the Registration area for South Sudanese refugees

Waiting. At Adjumani Refugee Registration Camp

Each registered refugee family is given a 30x30ft plot of land to start their new life. They can choose to live here for the rest of their lives or to find accomodation elsewhere. The landscape is challenging and the tools provided minimal but resillience is a characteristic the Sudanese know all to well

100 people sleep inside these tents every night
Waiting for water can be an all day exercise 
Each day thousands of South Sudanese people line up their buckets/paint pails and bowls for food supplies
Adjumani Refugee Camp Transistion Centre
This mother and her children rest inside a tent provided by the UN
Children have an extraordinary ability to bring a smile despite unspeakable hardship
This South Sudanese girl is resting inside one of the UN tents provided to her and 99 others for sleeping each night
This South Sudanese grandma is standing on her 30x30ft plot of land. There is no men to build her home for her.
Adjumani Refugee Transistion Centre
Adjumani Refugee Transistion Centre
Tim and Carl from Tutapona are taken around the South Sudan refugee camp in Adjumani

A young South Sudanese refugee takes a moment outside the health centre in Adjumani

A slight Sudan change of plan

In the last week, Hels and I have been with some of the 36,000 South Sudanese Refugees currently pouring over the border into Uganda. It’s been an eye-opening experience as we see first-hand the realities of life for these victims of war.

It all started when a friend of ours who works for the UN invited us up to Adjumani on the border of South Sudan   Our drive north from Kampala towards South Sudan was along atrocious roads- it took us 10 hours to travel 448kms.  Every few minutes we passed isolated communities made up of half a dozen round mud huts with straw roofs.  Many of these villages were the sites of IDP camps from the days of Uganda’s civil war.  The people living out there are very poor.  The only connection with the outside world is the odd MTN (local mobile phone network) sign and an occasional rusty bodaboda (motorcycle).  Red dust covers everything and it’s extremely hot.  It is into this landscape the South Sudanese are fleeing. 

South Sudan, Africa’s newest nation is now the setting for Africa’s latest war.  The fighting is mostly between the two biggest tribal groups, the Dinka and Nuer who are each backing their political leaders.  For a good article with a more in-depth explanation of the causes of the conflict go here.

The fighting started just before Christmas and since then, there have been about 10,000 killed, mostly civilians.  Half a million more have been displaced.  Of the displaced some have left the borders of South Sudan where they’re being intercepted by the Ugandan army and UNHCR workers.  They are then put on trucks and sent to the registration centre outside the town of Adjumani.  We were told that 36,000 people have arrived there since Dec 16th and hundreds more are arriving daily.  We felt so privileged to see the entire process live in action before us- from when a refugee arrives, to being registered, to the transition centre and finally the camp where they will live. Helen did a number of interviews on radio about it and you can listen to one of them here.  

On arrival we came across a mass of tents lining one side of the road and crowds of people sitting under trees.  We climbed an incomplete two storey, brick building to get a view of the surrounding countryside and the people living there.  A crowd of children followed us upstairs.  From this elevation we could see hundreds more tents, close packed, stretching back from the road.  We found out that these were the illegal refugees, people who had fled across the border but had not registered themselves with the UNHCR.  They’re still provided with tents and some basic facilities but cannot be processed and moved on until they’ve registered.  These asylum seekers were mostly sitting in any shade available.  All the while we were there the crowd of children around us grew.  For many of them we were the first white people they’d seen. 

Next we drove a few minutes up the road to the registration centre.  This area looked like a scene straight out of ‘Blood Diamond’.  Orderly lines of big UNHCR white tents are surrounded by tall barbed wire fences.  The one permanent building in the enclosure had a printed list of names stuck to a door of the refugees who have been granted a plot of land on which to settle.  A crowd of people were anxiously checking this list on a daily basis.  There are some basic facilities, but both toilets and water remain in short supply.  This shortage means that there are fears of a cholera outbreak when it next rains.  Wooden fences have been erected around food preparation areas to keep people out while men stirred barrel sized pots of rice over coal fires.   We looked inside some of the ‘100 person tents’ and saw no mattresses, just tarpaulins lining the parched ground.

We left the registration centre for the 
place the refugees are being settled ten kilometres down the road.  Formed on the 3rd of January this is the newest refugee settlement in Uganda. To date 16,000 South Sudanese have been moved here.  Once this settlement is full they’ll start another one.  Each refugee family is given a plot of land (30ftx30ft) and some basic equipment such as gardening tools and plastic for roofing.  Then they are left to start a new life, permanently if they want to.  Again the quality of the land looked fairly terrible.  The vegetation has been burned off.  For now food is being supplied for these people too but the idea is that through time the quantity will diminish as the new community starts growing crops.  While we were visiting some of the women were complaining that they didn’t know how to build a house and had no men to help them.  There are very few men.  We had it explained to us that many of the men accompanied their families to the Ugandan border before leaving them to go back and protect their houses or to fight. The vast majority of these refugees are women and children.  Sadly, I don’t know how many of these families will be re-united. 

A few things stood out to me as I processed all of this:

Firstly I was struck by the idea that the refugees have nothing to do, especially before they are settled.  We saw them sitting in their tents or under trees, waiting.  Some were playing cards, some were cooking food on charcoal fires but most were doing very little.  I think boredom must be one of the hardest things for these people.  Some will be waiting like this for some months, maybe longer. The heat is intense, the land scorched and the people uncertain for what the future holds.

We were very impressed by the work being done by the aid agencies up there and the UN.  Refugees only started arriving a month ago and already many of them have been processed and moved to permanent refugee settlements.  A massive number of tents have been brought in and set up.  Food stations and water pumps are more or less keeping up with the demand- no small task.  The general feeling was one of relative calm not desperation or chaos. 

So what does all this mean for us and the organisation we work for?  At present Tutapona has a team delivering the trauma rehabilitation program in the region around Gulu to those who were traumatised by Uganda’s civil war, but not yet to these new refugees. After a lot of prayer and careful consideration - Helen and I are moving up to live in Adjumani in one weeks’ time. We’ll be based there until the end of February and are tasked with working with the Office of the Prime Minister, the settlement commander and the UN to set up Tutapona and get our program off the ground. We can’t wait!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One week in - by Tim Manson

We finally touched down in Kampala a week ago. It feels like it’s been a long time in the planning so it’s great to be back. Despite three years having passed since our first taste of life in Uganda, it is very familiar. The culture shock is not quite the same second time around but there is still some mental adjustment needed on our part. One of the biggest areas is the way we look at time. At home we would service a car around work hours. After dropping it off in the morning we would take a courtesy car to work before collecting our car at the end of the day. All up the disruption to our usual routine might be little more than half an hour.

Carl (the director of Tutapona) purchased a car for Tutapona which Helen and I will be using for the year. I’m quite excited about it. It’s a former UN Toyota Land Cruiser that seats 9 with a 4.2l diesel engine. It’s the no-frills version. No central locking, electric windows or aircon. The glove box is made of steel- because apparently plastic just doesn’t cut it. It is the manliest car I’ve ever driven (and remember I drive a Wingroad in NZ). Before we start using it Carl decided to get the vehicle serviced. Here’s how it has played out:

Step 1- Carl calls his mechanic Godfrey first thing in the morning yesterday. His phone is off

Step 2- We drive to the mechanic’s shop. The boys there tell us: “Godfrey is not here.”

Step 3- Carl texts Godfrey

Step 4- Two hours pass

Step 5- Around the middle of the day we link up and Godfrey arranges to get the car

Step 6- Godfrey arrives at the house later in the day and takes the car

Step 7- We wait… maybe one day, maybe three

This fairly simple job really was quite the process over here. One small example of the way things work. A phrase we're getting used to hearing is- “It will take some time.”

The flip side of this of course is that people are much more relational than we’re used to. On the weekend Hels and I went back to the village we worked at in 2010. Many of the kids were still there so we spent the day catching up. One of the boys I know well informed me that last time I was here he had failed to take a game of chess off me but “if you have time I can show you I have improved some.” True to his word he made quite short work of me. Another boy commented that I am looking smaller than last time. “If you join us for a game of rugby, I will knock you.” Trash-talk Ugandan style.

 In short, we love being here. Carl and Julie have looked after us amazingly well. We’ve got underway with our Tutapona work and the more we learn, the more passionate we’re becoming about this organisation. Next week we’ll head off to northern Uganda and see the trauma rehabilitation work in action. More on that soon.