Sr. Lorena Ortiz, Comboni Missionary Sister is living in the refugee camps near Moyo, Uganda. Here is part of her story:
We left South Sudan, Kajo Keji, where we were having a beautiful mission. The situation of instability and insecurity forced the population to flee from their homes and villages. We never wanted to leave and never believed that the war was going to reach such a dimension, but, unfortunately it happened. We left South Sudan on February 6th and went to Arua, to one of our communities because we did not have a place where to stay. Arua is 170 kms away from the camps where our people are, and for us it was impossible to accompany them from so far.
Thanks be to God, with the help of some our friends, families and people of good will, it was possible for us to build a small and simple house near the refugee camps.
As you can imagine, the situation in the camps is not good, though people are really trying to adapt themselves to that environment. When they first arrived to that place in North Uganda, it was still dry season: the place was completely bushy, full of tall grass, thorns, trees, scorpions, snakes and some wild animals. It is very touching to hear people’s tales about how much effort they made to make that inhospitable region become “home.”
Some people spent one full month living under a tree trying to get some poles here and there to build a tent. Sometimes, even if it was dry season, some showers were also poured on them and the night became impossible under the tree, many got sick and some also died. Then, slowly by slowly they settled a bit. Some of the people had carried some fruits from South Sudan, like cassava, ground nuts, sweet potatoes, sesame, etc. At the beginning they were eating their food plus the ration of maize, beans and oil provided by the ONU and it was not so bad. Then, the ONU experienced a food crisis, and had to decrease rations. Families really suffered hunger, lack of a proper shelter and illnesses. Then the rainy season started and it was worse because of the floods. Some refugees had been placed in swampy areas near the Nile and their poor and tiny houses were destroyed because of the water. Some of them were also relocated to other zones.
However, in the midst of this sad picture, there are also some signs of hope: children are many! In the camps there was nothing for them like nursery schools or a place for them to learn something. The nice thing is that some communities started getting organized and some volunteers started nursery schools here and there and it is nice to see them. In the communities there are also people who identify the situation of the poorest and neediest and they help us to reach them with some food, plastic carpets (canvas) to roof their tents, and sometimes also some medicines for those who are sick and cannot find the medicines in the Health Centres of the Camp.
We, as sisters, are mainly visiting the families, going to pray on Sundays in the communities. One of us is running a small project of Micro-credit to help women start small business and to become self-reliant. I myself am in education and I am launching two projects for next year: one is to support 50 students in the Secondary schools (primary is free). The other one is about counselling, peace education, and healing and reconciliation. Our people are traumatized and they need a lot of support.
Another sister is committed to small Christian Communities through Bible sharing and giving formation to the members of the Catholic Action.
We are all trying to do our best in the condition we are. We lack structures and it is difficult to organize events or formation workshops because we don’t have rooms to meet in, but thank God the trees are many and they welcome us to meet all the same with people and our mission continues.
May the Lord bless you for your great help that without doubt will help us to help others too.