Team Rubicon UK Operations Ninja Abigail Kemp has just returned from a recce to a refugee settlement in Uganda. Here she tells us about her experiences.
As soon as a potential project in Uganda was mentioned, I knew I wanted to get involved. Everything about the project matched exactly what I want to be doing in life, focusing on making a significant and immediate difference to the lives of so many by doing something as simple as building a kitchen. So, when I received the phone call inviting me to come along on a recce, I said “Yes” without hesitation. Not only was this an excellent development opportunity for me, being able to get involved in the research and collaboration required for a potential operation, but more specifically it meant that I would have the chance to ‘make a difference’.
I arrived in Entebbe, Uganda after a 21-hour journey via Dubai (cheapest route – my mother’s a donor), and started to run through the final preparations for a 5-hour drive north to the refugee settlement early the next morning. Having seen widespread media coverage on refugees over the last few years, I had many preconceptions about what I was about to experience when visiting a refugee camp. I am happy to say that the settlement I visited did not reflect my fears.
When I arrived at the settlement, it did not feel as if I had walked into a scene I have seen so many times on the BBC recently. Don’t get me wrong – these people have suffered to a huge, unimaginable extent, and were living in significantly less than ideal circumstances, to put it mildly. Yet, the settlement was sophisticated and mature. The refugees had suffered hardship, but they were working towards building a better future for themselves, their family, and the community. It’s hardly surprising that it is widely believed that Uganda has the most progressive refugee policy in the world.
Being shown around by our in-country partners Feed the Hungry (an equally fantastic organisation, striving towards an inspirational aim) we visited three schools to assess the need for kitchens to be built there. Providing food in an education setting increases school attendance by up to 40%, and reduces the pressure on families to rely on the children to contribute to the family income. The schools in this settlement are recognised as being of a high quality, and provide the thousands of children living here with the real possibility of a better life.
We spoke to teachers, staff, the Camp Commandant, and the cooks, who provide about eighteen huge pots of rice daily for the children. The value of the food provided at school was very evident, and I am very keen that we find a way to contribute to feeding the children in a sustainable way, by improving the working conditions for the cooks, and increasing the efficiency of cooking methods.
One story in particular really affected me in terms of bringing home the reality of what so many people had gone through: losing their jobs, fleeing their homes, and the volatile situation they had faced, and continue to face, with an uncertain future. This was told by Samuel, the chairperson of a primary school management committee which opened in October 2016 and has a significant need for assistance.
Samuel’s primary school now has proper buildings for classrooms, but is still without a kitchen to provide food, as a result the children disappeared to walk to a school 4-5km away, just to have access to a meal. This challenge is furthered by the inability to access clean water at the school, with children sent to retrieve water at 8am and generally not returning until 10.30am. Creating further difficulties for this school (and the wider area) is a change in rainfall patterns, resulting in a massive crop failure. Yet, considering these challenges and the atrocities those in the refugee settlement have had to face, there is an overwhelming sense of positivity and hope.
Samuel embodied this and was an inspiration, maintaining a positive outlook for the future despite his past. He previously lived in Juba and worked for the Ministry of Roads. However, in 2014 he had to leave South Sudan, and came with his wife and 6 children to the refugee camp in Uganda.
I learned that Samuel and his family cannot currently return to their homeland, having been forced to leave their country due to a conflict they have no interest in participating in, for fear of being declared rebels and facing the attendant consequences. In the past week, several of his friends have been killed attempting to return to Juba after entering South Sudan. Yet, despite the amount of loss and hardship he has had to endure, Samuel is not bitter.
He is looking forward to when peace returns to his country and his family can return to their home. In the meantime, he has thrown himself into community life, working within the school system in the camp. He is motivated to help the children and build a better life for himself and others while in the settlement. Above all, he is resilient, optimistic and ultimately an inspiration, being able to focus on the future rather than letting the violence and sorrow of his past affect his outlook.
Without Team Rubicon, I would not have had this opportunity, and likely would not have had a similar experience until much later in life, if at all. The work TR does is inspirational, helping those in need, regardless of circumstance and location. In addition, Feed the Hungry is an excellent organisation, with a persistent attitude, ensuring they follow through on their plans and achieve their intentions, regardless of the challenges they face along the way. This trip was an invaluable experience to work with both organisations, as well as an opportunity to create a lasting relationship between the two, and most importantly, to investigate a way to help those suffering and those who have suffered to make the best of their circumstances while they wait for a resolution in their homeland. I cannot thank Team Rubicon enough for this experience, and cannot wait for further similar opportunities in the future, for both me and you!
Donate to support this project and help us to build kitchens out in these schools and in-so-doing, ensure a child goes to school instead of having to work in the fields. Any donations will be greatly appreciated. Even the smallest donation will have a positive impact on the life of somebody in need.
Find out more about Feed the Hungry.