‘I will keep telling refugees’ sto­ries un­til the world lis­tens’

Grazia (UK) - - 10 Hot Stories - by ad­woa aboah

‘It wasn’t un­til I was back home in London, a few weeks ago, curled up in my boyfriend’s bed with the TV on, that the full weight of what I’d wit­nessed a few days ear­lier re­ally hit me. I broke down com­pletely; partly out of a fear that there was noth­ing I could do to help and partly out of guilt and grat­i­tude for my priv­i­leged life. At that mo­ment, I swore never to for­get the peo­ple I’d met or the sto­ries I’d heard in Uganda. I re­minded my­self of my prom­ise to a group of young fe­male refugees – that I would retell their sto­ries un­til the world couldn’t turn its back on them any more.

‘Just a week ear­lier, I was in the back of a 4x4 in Uganda with Save The Chil­dren, hurtling to­wards Bidibidi, the largest refugee camp in the world and home to 270,000 peo­ple who have fled con­flict in South Su­dan. I had no idea what to ex­pect and was shocked at the sheer scale of the set­tle­ments. Over one mil­lion refugees have fled South Su­dan into Uganda since fight­ing be­tween rebels

at the world’s largest refugee camp in Uganda

and gov­ern­ment forces broke out in July last year – and more than half of them are un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren. I sat down with five of them and they ea­gerly told me how much they loved the Child Friendly Space where they learned maths and English.

In Im­pevi camp, an hour’s drive from Bidibidi and home to 135,000 refugees, I drank tea with 15-year-old twins Hope and Grace out­side their tiny tent. Their dad is the only per­son they have left in the world, but he dis­owned them af­ter Hope was raped by armed forces while they were flee­ing fight­ing in South Su­dan. Star­ing at the ground and play­ing with her hands, Hope told me she brought shame to him be­cause the man who raped her didn’t marry her. Now Hope is eight months preg­nant and Save The Chil­dren has placed the girls with a fos­ter carer in the camp. They saw peo­ple killed be­fore their eyes, yet they hope to re­turn to South Su­dan one day so they can get a proper ed­u­ca­tion and make a life for them­selves. I don’t know how you lose ev­ery­thing and still find the hope to con­tinue. But they do.

It was the same with 17-year-old twins Ruth and Rose. They fled South Su­dan, where they lived with their grand­mother, in Fe­bru­ary. But dur­ing their jour­ney Rose was shot in the leg by armed forces. Even so, they car­ried on and it took them a week to limp across the border on foot. Rose wiped away tears as she told me how they have no other fam­ily in the world and were forced to leave their grand­mother be­hind be­cause she wasn’t well enough to make the jour­ney. Rose has night­mares ev­ery night that the sol­diers will track her down and shoot her again. But she doesn’t let that get in the way of her am­bi­tions and in­stead dreams of be­com­ing Min­is­ter for Sport so she can get more girls in­volved in football. She’s even formed a girls’ football team in the camp and is nick­named ‘Suarez’ be­cause she’s so good.

I tried my hard­est not to get up­set when lis­ten­ing to their sto­ries. I wanted to make sure I was a source of strength and sup­port to them. Truth be told, they have more strength than I could pos­si­bly muster up in those dire cir­cum­stances, never mind the fact they’re only 15 and 17. It made me think of the des­per­ately un­fair dis­par­ity be­tween our up­bring­ings: at their age, I was at school be­ing a nor­mal teenage girl while these kids have lost en­tire fam­i­lies, are vic­tims of rape and of­ten or­phaned with nowhere to call home.

Uganda’s hos­pitable ap­proach to­wards refugees is truly in­spi­ra­tional. The UK Gov­ern­ment is far more af­flu­ent and yet it could learn a lot from Uganda when it comes to ac­cept­ing refugees and mak­ing them feel wel­come. I wish Bri­tain would take note and see how a coun­try should re­ally treat vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple dur­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis like this.

The har­row­ing sto­ries I heard will never leave me, but nei­ther will the re­mark­able re­silience shown by every­one I spoke to. I promised I’d get their sto­ries out there so I hope every­one sits up and pays at­ten­tion to this. I won’t stop talk­ing about it un­til they do. The trip made me re­alise how much more work there is to do in terms of rais­ing money and aware­ness. I’ll be go­ing back next year; this was just the be­gin­ning for me. To help, visit savethechil­dren.org.uk/uganda

I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU LOSE EV­ERY­THING AND STILL FIND THE HOPE TO CON­TINUE

Ad­woa with a three­week-old baby born in Rhino camp and, left, at a Child Friendly Space in Bidibidi

Ad­woa (with Rose, left, and Hope, be­low) also vis­ited Rhino camp, home to 90,000 refugees. In all three camps STC run health clin­ics and learn­ing pro­grammes, as well as pro­vid­ing emer­gency health­care, sup­port­ing the re­uni­fy­ing and fos­ter care pro­cesses and of­fer­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port and play camps to help chil­dren re­cover from trauma.

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