“I remember walking into a church service one day and seeing so many smiling faces on the women and children. I saw joy. I saw hope.”
Can you imagine living in a hot climate and not having rain for over two years? What if you relied on the vegetables that grew in your garden for food, but there was no growth in sight? The drought-fuelled crisis across the Horn of Africa was a major focus for international development agencies in 2017 and continues to be today. Many people lost their lives and the lives of their animals because of the lack of rain. It spiralled into one of the worst food situations and water shortages that we’ve seen in years. Not only are water and food scarce. In South Sudan they have an additional crisis of their own. Ongoing political conflict has forced millions of people from their homes, causing widespread displacement and even more deaths. That is why ERDO is partnering with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God – Uganda (PAG Uganda) to help support refugees crossing over into Uganda.
“Last year, 1.6 million refugees came into Uganda. The challenges for women, children and the elderly are many. Some people have no idea where their families are.” Reverend Simon Peter Emiau is the general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God - Uganda and describes the division the South Sudan refugee crisis is causing. “Separation between families is a very difficult thing to look at. Women come up to you and say, ‘My children are not here—do you know where they are?’ It breaks your heart.”
What do you do when you don’t know whether your family members are dead or alive? Rev. Simon Peter says, “Sometimes there are no answers; however, as the church, we need to be the people who will sit down and talk to these people one-on-one. We need to be the face and the heart of compassion.” And that is exactly what PAG Uganda is in the 16 villages that make up the Rhino Resettlement Camp (RRC).
Among the 1.6 million refugees who fled to Uganda, Sara was a beneficiary of this compassion. She has six children, and one of her boys almost died after being bit by something unknown. Rev. Simon Peter ensured that the boy was taken to the hospital immediately; thankfully, his condition improved. Sara kept in touch with Rev. Simon Peter regularly, and he said he would help her and the children in any way he could. “It is very hard to keep in contact at the refugee camps as communication is very challenging. Sara must borrow a cellphone to give me a call. If she is not favoured by the staff on duty that day, she will not get to use the phone. There are also times when cellphones are dead and you have to take them to another place to charge them before you can use them back at the camp,” explains Rev. Simon Peter. Sara and Rev. Simon Peter used to speak on a regular basis but now, after several attempts to contact her, four months have gone by without a word from Sara. “I hope she is OK,” whispers Rev. Simon Peter with his head down. “The thing about these camps is, when they are full, they will move you. So it is very difficult to keep in touch with people you have connected with.”
In addition to being the face and heart of compassion, through ERDO, PAG Uganda provides food to women and children who have fled from South Sudan. Modo and her family are extremely grateful for the food assistance they are receiving. Modo is a 27-year-old woman and mother of two who lives in the Rhino Resettlement Camp after she, her children, her father, and her sisters fled South Sudan because of the ongoing violence. Her family walked through bushland for two weeks to reach Uganda, walking at night and hiding in the bushes during the day to avoid armed rebels.
When she arrived at the Rhino Resettlement Camp, Modo and her five-month-old baby were suffering from malnutrition. Within a few days of arriving at the camp, she started receiving Corn Soya Blend Plus (CSB Plus), a high-energy nutritional cereal, every day through the nutrition program provided by ERDO. Today Modo is doing well, and her baby girl is now thriving.
With a smile on her face, Modo said, “I had lost so much weight and was very thin when I arrived here. My baby was not growing and was constantly hungry because I had no milk. Once I started to receive CSB Plus for making porridge, things changed. I am looking far better than I was because of the benefit of this porridge. I can now breastfeed my child freely without any fear of losing weight, and my child is growing well again.”
Modo is just one of the 2,500 refugees who is benefiting from the food assistance program in Uganda. In 2017, ERDO began providing highly nutritious food in the form of CSB Plus to pregnant women and people with special needs fleeing from South Sudan. The program has been extended into 2018.
The challenges in the refugee camps are many. Yet, in the midst of pain, loss and unanswered questions, hope can be seen through the building of relationships, food assistance, and church services organized by PAG Uganda. “The church services are really special,” exclaims Rev. Simon Peter. “I remember walking into a church service one day and seeing so many smiling faces on the women and children. I saw joy. I saw hope. I saw people brave enough to say, ‘Whatever it takes, here we are, and if God is for us, we shall be here.’ ”
Millions of South Sudanese refugees have fled their homes due to civil conflict and hunger and are finding refuge in Uganda. Every week over 2,000 new refugees are arriving, and the available resources are overstretched. Through ERDO’s partnership with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God - Uganda, 2,500 refugees have been fed supplementary and highly nutritious food. To help with this humanitarian crisis, visit: https://www.erdo.ca/south-sudan-refugee-crisis. Samantha Burnside Samantha Burnside is the marketing and communications officer for ERDO.
This article appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.