Samantha Burnside

“Using shortcuts through bushes and sleeping in abandoned homes in search for food, Viola and her family arrived in Uganda with just the clothes on their backs.”

When Ugandan Reverend Simon Peter Emiau came to The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada’s national office in November 2017, I had the opportunity to interview him about the South Sudanese refugee crisis in Uganda. After the interview, I chatted with him for a bit, and our conversation ended with the Reverend telling me that I need to visit Uganda.

I remember thinking, I would love to go to Uganda, but let’s be honest: working for a non-profit organization, there’s not a lot of extra income left over to travel—especially to Africa.

Although I didn’t see how a trip there could be possible, it didn’t stop me from going home, praying, and asking God to send me. I remember specifically saying, “God, I know that You can do anything. I thank You that You can send me to Uganda. I pray that You will give me the opportunity to go and visit.”

A few months later, I received an invitation from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, asking if I would be interested in participating in a program tour designed for communications specialists. Guess where the tour was headed? That’s right: Uganda!

I was blown away by God’s faithfulness and such a clear answer to prayer. I was so excited to experience a different continent and to visit ERDO’s supplementary feeding program at the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Arua, Uganda.

The road leading to the refugee settlement was treacherous. I guess sitting by the wheel didn’t make the bus drive any easier. I cannot even count the number of times I flew out of my seat, my head almost hitting the roof because of the rough road conditions.

I didn’t realize that the words I would use to describe the road conditions to get to the camp would be the actual reality for families from South Sudan living in the refugee settlement.


This is how the women described their journeys from South Sudan to Uganda. Thirty-four-year-old Viola travelled with 11 family members, including her children and her sister. She told me what it was like back in South Sudan. “Before the war started, it was safe with the Dinkas. But once the war started, they would chase us [her tribe] out; they would slaughter and rape us. We hid in the bushes when we saw anyone while on our journey.”

Using shortcuts through bushes and sleeping in abandoned homes in search for food, Viola and her family arrived in Uganda with just the clothes on their backs. They threw away the rest of their belongings on their way to Rhino Camp because they were too heavy to carry on their long journey to safety.


Viola and her family have been living in the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement for just over two years now, and it has not been easy. “As long as the war stops, even if it was today, we’d go back to South Sudan. We are not comfortable here, but we know we are not safe there,” Viola commented. One of the women sitting with us had just learned that family members back in South Sudan had fled their homes that same morning.

Over 100 refugees arrive in Uganda daily. This puts increasing pressure on the food supply. At home in South Sudan, the women would grow their own food. But in the current dry season with no available land to farm, they are unable to grow any vegetables to eat and rely on food rations from ERDO and other NGOs.

The women explain that there isn’t enough food. They receive monthly food rations, but these last only about 20 days out of the month. “When the food runs out, we borrow from neighbours; if they can’t help, we starve. Some of us starve until we get the next ration,” Viola says.

Feeling helpless in the moment, I asked Viola what we could do.

She said, “You see the situation we are going through. We are really suffering. We are not enjoying life. Take our humble request home to pray with us so we can come out of this situation we are going through. Pray for the leaders who are putting us through this, that God will change them. It has been our prayer that God will help you so you can help us.”

Our meeting ended with tears and heavy hearts. As hopeless as I felt, God reminded me that He is more than enough. Just as I prayed with confidence and faith that He could do anything, like send me to Uganda, He can do anything for refugees like Viola living in these challenging conditions.

Will you join me as I take Viola’s humble request and pray for her and the many other refugees who escaped South Sudan?

Currently there are over 1.2 million refugees in Uganda. ERDO is providing supplementary feeding to 2,550 pregnant and nursing women and persons with special needs as well as psychosocial support to over 3,300 refugees who crossed over from South Sudan. To help meet the food needs of families living in the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement, visit Samantha Burnside is ERDO’s marketing & communications officer. This article appeared in the July/August/September 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © ERDO.


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