Adjumani – the South Sudanese Rescue Camps
What an incredible day we had Friday leaving shortly after 9:00 am, driving 2 + hours north over rutted dirt roads to the city of Adjumani near the Sudanese border. A few miles further we were at the Ugandan Government settlement offices, used to organize the 80,000 refugees who have been pouring in from war-torn South Sudan. Pam and I planned to donate the pillowcase dresses sent to us, soccer balls, candy for the children and bananas but fearing our small donations (considering the number of refugees), would cause more problems, we ended up just tagging along.
We traveled with Simbwa, a Kampala-based member of our Church who helps with the logistics of all our Church’s humanitarian efforts, Elder and Sister Hansen, Public Affairs missionaries and Elder and Sister Hannan, Humanitarian Service missionaries and their daughter Ashley who is visiting from Thailand. They had all driven up the previous day. We were lead there by the Honorable Musa Ecweru, Minister of Disaster Relief and Rescue…a cabinet position in the UG Govt…I would say similar to the head of our US Homeland Security Department.(Musa is the surname) He is also an elected Member of Parliament (MP), representing the "Amuria District".
The refugees began pouring into Uganda in December. In March there were 300 refugees from So Sudan coming into the camps daily. As of last week the number had dropped to 100-150 per day. Uganda has over 400,000 refugees. When other countries have been at war, Uganda keeps its borders open for those needing to flee. Currently, the biggest camps are those we visited and those on UGs western border, where people have fled from the Joseph Kony fighting in the DRof Congo.
Our purpose was to help with the distribution of mosquito nets (The minister told the refugees there was no sense in escaping South Sudan only to die of malaria in Uganda.) blankets and 1000s of saucepans (cooking pans) to the most vulnerable in the camps. At these camps there are many who are old, frail, lame and blind and many children and mothers, often without their husbands who are involved in the fighting. All of these donations came from our Church. (The Church had already donated food which was delivered through Catholic Charities).
We were surprised how far apart each of the camps were. That was wisely done to allow each to become its own community with more space, especially for planting, since they may be there for some time. Each camp is also divided into districts which elect their own leader/s.
We did handovers in three of the four camps. Minister Musa addressed each one and had all of the missionaries introduce themselves…there was an interpreter at each to translate.(We were traveling to the fourth camp over rough terrain when we hit a tree stump and got a flat tire – very grateful that’s all it was). Since it was already quite late, we had to forego that camp. This would be a huge disappointment for those refugees. They would need to wait until Monday without all the “dignitaries”. They love having visitors.
Although the poverty of the refugees is hard to imagine, they were in well organized, clean camps with decent housing. At each camp we were greeted in the warmest fashion with traditional dancing, singing, clapping, yelling, and twice with uproarious laughter when Pam and I kissed after we introduced ourselves. (Kissing in public seldom done).These people were so sincerely grateful for what the UG govt, our Church and other organizations have done for them. As I have said before, based on what I have seen here, we have NO poor in America.
Each camp’s handover began with prayer. Musa then gave very practical counsel to the refugees; “be one, be unified, no tribal fighting among yourselves, be hopeful as this is a temporary situation; remember you will be home someday. In the third camp (only) he said, “there are rich people in UG and some will bring you money but will also bring you AIDs…it will do no good to survive in the camps only to return to South Sudan to die there from AIDS contracted here… If your husband is not here, be faithful to him.” (One man was pointing fingers at one of the women).
Musa was able to get a Canadian Pentecostal church to donate some very expensive equipment for a radio broadcasting station so the camps could have their own radio frequency; only messages of hope and peace will be aired, there will be no tribal finger-pointing or arguing permitted, no debating, no speakers from the warring factions in So Sudan. Next week Musa is bringing donations of seeds and hoes.
What a delightful and spiritual giant he is. He has great love for these poor desperate people, having told them that at age 19 he was a refugee himself from UG living inside Kenya. So he understands the plight of the South Sudanese. Musa’s genuine concern, love and patience manifested itself in every instance. He was a great teacher to the refugees, visibly demonstrating charity…the pure of Christ which fills his heart.
At the end of our long, tiring, hot day, we sat down for dinner which the minister provided and held a debriefing in the city of Adjumani. He asked for our comments. I told him it was so inspiring to watch him interact with the refugees, that the smile always on his face was radiating from his heart and the scriptures teach us when we are in the service of our fellow beings we are only in the service of our God. (Mosiah 2:17, Book of Mormon). Another who has participated with him before commented on how amazed they are at the amount of time he spends personally visiting and distributing at the sites. He explained that for him to be an effective leader, he had to get in the trenches (my word) to verify what’s happening – to know the facts. He mentioned, for example, last week when he was on the front page of the major newspapers and NTV news because he lam-blasted one of the top generals for stealing cattle from some poor people in one of the districts, saying the general should removed from office. He said he was able to do that because he had the facts, no one, not even the president, has contested what he said.
He asked if we could possibly furnish two more things: 1) dresses as some of the women came with only the clothes on their back making it difficult for them to wash their one dress; and 2) reusable female hygiene supplies. (Needs are so great all around the world that we are not sure the Church can do these.)
He offered a nice catholic facility for us to spend the night, but we all had other obligations early the next morning.
As the meeting concluded, Musa and I walked towards our vehicles with our arms across each other’s backs, expressing our appreciation and love for one another It was now dark but his vehicle led us safely back into Gulu.
Minister Musa has been a trusted friend to the church for eight years, not afraid to get in the trenches for us when there have been special needs or false accusations hindering our work.
Pam: If Relief Society, Young Womens or a similar organization is interested in making the simple hygiene supplies, send an e-mail to email@example.com and I will send the instructions. Musa has two sons attending BYU-Idaho and UVU Provo. He and another top government official fly to Salt Lake City in May. Perhaps some could be returned with them. Two of our sons are also flying over here the end of May. They could bring some. I will also pay postage for one large box of the hygiene supplies. My motto: “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”
His Honor Musa
Thanksgiving expressed through a prayer.
Sis Hansen in the blue. Ashley Hannan on the left. She was here visiting her folks.
Many grateful faces
This Sudanese lady required help standing up. Then I noticed she was blind as well as lame.
Just one shot of the saucepans and under them a blanket and mosquito nets.
Waiting her turn.
The Honorable Minister speaking to one of the camps...always smiling.
Arriving into a camp, people on both sides of the road cheering us on.
lady in pink dancing, others singing and welcoming
Sharing love...no language interpreter required. One educated young man, 20 yrs old, handed Pam a letter addressed specifically to her, seeking help. Its heartbreaking that we can't do more.
A group of expectant recipients. Notice the man on front row with wooden leg, also blind.
Back shirt of a local aid worker.
UUGGHH! This was the road. The stump also bent the tire rim.
Mosiah Chapter 4 of the Book of Mormon
Mosiah Chapter 4 of the Book of Mormon