(ANS – Palabek) – “My children are starving. They haven’t eaten anything for the last three days,” said 38-year-old Adol Majok, a single mother of three sons and two daughters. “They are going to die unless I get them food to eat.” Majok arrived at Palabek three years ago after her husband was killed during fighting in Pajok, a town in South Sudan. She lost everything in the violence and had no source of income.
After a few months at the camp that hosts around 46,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan, Majok opened a small tea stall business to support her family. However, her life changed again the minute the government announced the first confirmed coronavirus case in the country. Her list of clients, mostly refugees, quickly dwindled. “My sufferings started. I had to close my business and as a result I lacked something to eat with my children. I now depend on aid.”
Deng Ajiing is another refugee welcomed in Palabek. She fled the war in 2017 in Pajok with her young baby after her husband was killed and her daughter raped and killed by soldiers in her presence. She has been recovering from trauma, but the pandemic exacerbated her situation. “Things are really bad. I thought of dying and joining my husband and daughter. But I thank those people who offered me food and emotional support during this period of pandemic” she said.
Majok and Deng are among 1.4 million refugees in Uganda facing hunger because of aid disruption, loss of income and rising food prices linked to the COVID-19 crisis. The U.N. Refugee Agency warns that unless urgent action is taken to address the situation, levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anemia are expected to rise, especially among children.
The Salesians of Don Bosco in Palabek are trying to fill that gap, making an effort to help those in need with food, clothing and other supplies.
“Refugees who are among vulnerable groups should be remembered because COVID-19 robbed them of the little that they had,” said Salesian Father Lazar Arasu, director of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services. “They are suffering because they are the worst hit by the pandemic. The food ration has reduced because of lockdown. But we are trying our best to help them with everything during this hard time.”
The Salesians are also providing certified seeds, fertilizers and farming support to refugees to help them mitigate food shortage amid the pandemic. The Indian-born priest said his agency has given farmers several kilos of beans, corn, peanuts and a range of vegetable seeds.
“We are now slowly finding solutions to empower refugees to be self-sufficient through the cultivation of food,” said Father Arasu, who is among the five Salesian missionaries living and working in Palabek camp. “We have hired land for them from the local Ugandan neighbors so that they can grow food and fend for themselves.”
Catechist Peter Jok, a South Sudanese refugee, said they have been distributing face masks, soap and sanitizers in an effort to help refugees protect themselves against the virus that has already infected more than 31.4 million people worldwide.
“We are all worried because we don’t want any refugee to contract the virus here. It will be devastating,” said Jok, who works in Palabek camp. “We are encouraging them to keep the social distancing and observe the set government guidelines to fight the virus.”
Father Arasu noted that the economic hardship caused by the pandemic might further exacerbate mental health conditions in refugee populations. The Salesians have been providing information, counseling and psychosocial support to vulnerable refugees in the camp.
“Refugees need our support and prayers all the time. They have experienced a lot. We are offering pastoral care and counseling to refugees during the pandemic to make them feel wanted” said Father Arasu.
Source: Catholic News
- AGL AFRICA GRANDI LAGHI