Overtime stories have been about Uganda’s hospitality, and kindness to almost becoming the biggest refugee host country in the world. Uganda currently hosts almost 1.4 million refugees, with more than 1 million who fled South Sudan. Beyond this massive displacement into Acholi and West Nile regions, Northern Uganda, many settlements in the southwestern part of the country are also seeing steady influxes of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Rwanda, and elsewhere.
Although the daily arrival rate of South Sudanese seeking refuge in Uganda continues to decline; roughly 120 people arrived daily in December, compared to 2,000 per day in late 2016. In 2017, the UNICEF humanitarian report projected that the total refugee population would increase from 1.4 million to about 1.8 million by December 2018.
While refugee-hosting is associated with some benefits to the local economy, the large-scale presence of refugees undeniably creates a heavy burden for hosting communities. Uganda’s refugee policy grants refugees’ access to healthcare, education, a right to work and freedom of movement. Findings show that secondary school-aged refugees are least likely to be enrolled in school, access reasonable healthcare and may not be able to afford other necessary basic needs due to their limited livelihoods opportunities. Young girls in particular drop out of school, with commonly report early marriage and teenage pregnancy, sexual and gender violence and engaging in risky behaviors
To contribute to efforts to avert this vice, Reach A Hand, Uganda under the GoU/ UNFPA 8th Country Programme supported by the Danish Embassy, joined Care International, CDFU and MoH on a journey to introduce a new cutting edge programme dubbed WAY (Women, Adolescents and Young People) programme in 8 districts of Acholi and West Nile. Aimed at enhancing women’s and young people’s access and utilization of quality Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Gender Based Violence (GBV) services, a programme designed to empower young people as SRHR and GBV champions in their different sub-counties.
We sent out a call encouraging the youth to apply and received an application from Neima Likiso David, 26, who fled the war in South Sudan with her mother and siblings. She is a born of Payawa, in Yei central state. She is just one of the one million South Sudanese refugees currently hosted in Uganda. Being the first born child, she had to look after her siblings since her mother was weak. They first took refuge in Deng settlement in Koboko district before relocating relocating to imvepi settlement in Arua district. There, she met David, a South Sudanese refugee and they got married. She now has two children aged Four and two and lives with her family in Imvepi Refugee settlement, along with thousands of other refugees, where she found protection and access to limited food and water. She however worries for her children’s and her own future, and dreams of going back to school and becoming a nurse one day.
“Life in Imvepi is not easy. Food is sometimes scarce and access to water limited. But the nationals are friendly and receptive. Before, they didn’t want us to access their water sources or even fetch firewood from the forests, which is not the case now. They have greatly changed,” she laments. “We even have SACCO groups comprising of both refugees and nationals and it’s very helpful,” she added.
I’m privileged to volunteer with Medical Teams International, Save the Children and AMREF where I do community awareness on referrals for health services and community outreaches especially in the settlements. I got to know about this opportunity of youth champions from a poster I saw on our notice board and immediately contacted our camp commander who then forwarded my details to Reach A Hand Uganda. After receiving the call for the training, I was so excited and I hope that I can change the situation of my fellow youth especially the refugees in demanding for youth friendly services through the community dialogues.
To shed light on the refugees’ most critical needs and the situation on ground, District leaders provided the team with information and challenges faced in the different communities, among the outstanding issues gender based violence and teenage pregnancies topped the list; The LCV of Kitgum, Mr. Omona Jackson explained that the biggest cause of violence in these communities is the gender divide, where men think they have the right to impart their will on women at anytime. He narrated a story of 23 year old Opoka(not real name), a hard working mother of 5 children married to a one illiterate ongom (not real name) who spends his day in the local bars around the nearby market and returns home only to enjoy meals and demand for more money to support his drinking hobby.
These are just two of the hundreds of stories we encountered while interacting with the youth and district officials in these areas. Another encounter was with the Woman councillor from Arua district who was so glad that the program was to benefit the district. She was dismayed about the high rates of prostitution in the district especially in Rhino camp, Municipal Council and Ocea II camp in Imvepi where prostitution is a huge problem. “It’s so sad that ladies now call themselves kiosks”, she lamented. “I hope this program can reach out to the youth in these villages so they can deviate from this vice”, she added.