Saturday, April 12, 2014

Week 58 Adjumani Refugee Camps

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 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 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

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will  administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
 17 Perhaps thou shalt sayThe man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore  will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of  my food, nor impart unto him  of my  substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
 18 But say unto you, man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent;   and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no   interest in the kingdom of God.
 19 For behold, are we not all beggarsDo we not all depend upon the same Being, even   God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for   silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
 20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled  with joy,  and has  caused  that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly  great  was your joy.
 21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith,   believing that ye shall receive, then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye   have one to another.
 22 And if ye  judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he   perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for   withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongethand yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
 23 say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance   shall perish with him; and now,  I  say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
 24 And again, say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain  from day to day; mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; would that ye   say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if had would give.
 25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemnedand your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
 26 And now, for the sake of these things which have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk  guiltless before God I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poorevery man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing  the naked, visiting the  sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally,  according to their  wants.
 27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and orderfor it is not requisite that a  man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be  diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

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