Uganda: “Little did I know how badly these refugees need a voice”

October 5, 2016

GPJ-UgandaKAMPALA, UGANDA — After writing a story about the impact of conflict in South Sudan on Ugandan businesspeople, I wondered how South Sudanese refugees were coping with life in refugee settlements.

To get this story, I left Kampala for northern Uganda. I wasn’t sure I’d get the sources I needed, but little did I know how badly these refugees need a voice. They wanted to send a message to their leaders to restore peace in their homeland and, most importantly, they want to return home.

Reporting this story was something I needed, as it helped me grow as a reporter. I learned new tricks. I am very particular about time management, but I learned how to relax and be more patient and know that not everything has to be scheduled.

My interviews went normally until I arrived at an orphanage run by Christopher Dranile Drale. My heart sank as I spoke to a child who had lost both parents due to a recent cholera outbreak.

I spent quite a bit of time at the orphanage. Everyone came out and wanted to share their stories. I listened and it seemed to help. You would think I was live broadcasting. I had never interviewed in a place where people wanted so badly to be known and to be heard.

I learned about people who had no place to sleep and were not allowed to stay in the empty tents that were reserved for newly-arriving refugees. I walked to see these people and meet a family. They thought I had come to give them ration cards and were sad when I said I wasn’t. Still, they were happy to tell their story. It made no sense to me at all why some rules exist. Why won’t they let them occupy the tents, knowing what they’ve been through?

Seeing the refugees left me thinking about how lucky I am to enjoy peace in my country, how blessed I am to have a meal whenever I can and to have a place to sleep. To see a place like this refugee camp is life-changing, and there is so much to reflect on for myself, my country and the rest of the world.

I hope more is done, especially in regards to making refugee communities more self-reliant so that two years down the road they won’t still be dependent on donors for basics such as food.