Life is unforgiving- it does not often give a second chance. Suzan and Ocaya had found themselves with one. It is the poison of repelling days and nights that’s going to keep them alive, until they eventually reunite with their parents in a new country. In Uganda, Suzan and Ocaya discover their long lost family- they find HOME again.
There was a billowing storm that sought to be calmed in these children’s hearts, and here was UNHCR. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has touched these children’s lives in ways it will never know.
Suzan Atima, a young girl of 15, and her brother Ocaya who is only 12, are refugees from the Acholi speaking tribe. Two years ago, they were separated from their parents during the political insurgences in South Sudan. During these uprisings, the refugees are separated from their families, as parents are taken to different refugee camps. With the help of the UNHCR staff, families get re-united and begin their life as a family afresh.
Suzan and Ocaya had trekked to the Ugandan border at the onset of the war between the Sudanese government and the rebel factions. They entered Uganda from the Lamwo-Sudanese border, got registered as refugees and joined a refugee settlement in Palabek. The people bordering Lamwo district are mostly the Acholi of South Sudan. They speak Acholi, though their dialect is slightly different from that of the Acholi in Uganda. The two tribes can understand each other quite well, though their lifestyle is different from that of the Acholi in Uganda. Just luckily, that is how these children were able to communicate with the people they met in this new refugee settlement in Uganda.
On foot, for millions of miles, rainy nights and days, under scorching sunshine, Suzan and her brother had a target. Over the days and months, the tears went dry, the pain of being away from family never goes off so easily. The old moon had gone to rest, there wasn’t time enough to wait on the new sun, for it was going to be a hot one… too hot for the children’s tender skins and throats. Where were the waters to quench that thirst? Suzan and Ocaya had to earn their refreshment through a tough struggle with life, in pain, sickness and an overrated strength for children of their age. The journey on foot from South Sudan to Uganda was going to be an “eggy” one. For each egg of trouble they would step on and break, pain would ensure… but that pain wasn’t going to win, Suzan was an unstoppable soul. Even if there was a storm raging inside of her, she was not about to give up on the search for her parents. With her brother, she took the first step. The decision to go HOME was bold though dark, but as life has always proven, hope is the thing with feathers. There was no giving up. Deep inside, she knew they were starting on a journey of no return. No return could have meant death… going through paths that are punctuated with bombs, flying bullets and noises from the rebels. For a child who was brought to life in happiness, this was too much to take. So young and innocent, in lack and scarcity, they were determined. Every conversation was a thriller of the anticipation of their next meeting with their parents, Suzan and Ocaya were strong. They knew that time was going to mend all the hurts in their hearts.
Even if life had been cruel to Suzan and her brother, the light would eventually shine on them at the break of one lucky dawn.
Palabek was where Suzan and Ocaya’s story started to become alive. In Lamwo, Palabek, the UNHCR has set up schools in the refugee settlements. As such, the refugees have been given the right to education. Several refugees are able to get their children to attend school without any interference from the rebel activities or government forces, but there’s that trouble that never leaves the heart. The refugee children recount memories of the days they went to school and were afraid of being away from their parents. Even though school is a good place to be, the learning and playtime with other children has a limited happiness. The children often feel safer when they are home. When they hear gunshots at a distance, or close to their school, at that moment, the safest place to be is in the hands of their parents or relatives back home.
Suzan and Ocaya were not going to school because they had no relatives. All they had was themselves. The search for their parents was still on. Whenever a chance came for people to get shifted to other refugee camps, Suzan and her brother yearned to be picked upon. When most refugees come to Uganda from Sudan, they search for their relatives in Yumbe or in Kampala.
The day of luck was here! Suzan and her brother were part of the refugees that were shifted from Palabek to another refugee camp in Yumbe, towards the West Nile region. After two years, this was their decided fate. All the effort, struggle, pain… but mostly patience, it came to pay off. Like that, Suzan and Ocaya were HOME again. Their racing hearts had found rest once again. Their lives had been remodelled. There’s no bigger happiness than Family. Their restless and hopeful spirits had brought them on the road to HOME. It was a beautiful nightmare for Suzan and her family. They don’t see each other for close to 36 months, and they’re all blessed with this sweet reality. After going through everything traumatic, Suzan and Ocaya were HOME. They feel that reconnecting with their family is the biggest achievement and success of their lives. With this closeness, they can do more towards development, socially and economically, together as one. There’s more to the story;
Suzan and her brother came to Uganda when they were shy, but now they have gained confidence through interaction with the local community bordering the refugee camps. UNHCR has created a chance for people to feel connected to each other again. Suzan and Ocaya had never been to school, but now they have joined the refugee schools and can read and write.
Together with other refugees, they have been given the right to health care, as they are free to access health care facilities in the refugee settlements, such as immunisation and sexual reproductive health services. The refugees are now able to trade with the local communities neighbouring the refugee settlement. Now that they have a refugee pass, they even have the freedom to move freely. With the little education they get, they are able to communicate with other people from the neighbouring villages of the refugee settlement and even travel as far as Kampala where they communicate with people from other tribes other than the Acholis.
The biggest offers that UNHCR has granted the refugees are security, education, health care and the freedom to move around, even though they still have the status of “Refugee”. It is also true that there are refugees that have been educated up to their university level.
Second chances are never thick. You can miss it by just a second or a mere blink. Before happiness comes to it, success is always a result of the many milestones we have to tap upon our arrival at each stage. Like growing up, war is filled with punctuations of marks- bullets that show up to roll us into balls of failure. When faced with troubles, we want to unsubscribe from plans our foresights once considered the best choices. Running away is always fulfilling at that moment, it’s the cleverest idea our minds tend to cook, but the mist in time is unwavering. If you do not care to see clearly today, you’ll turn out blind for the rest of your life. Get a pair of spectacles if you should. Sit before your board and count your steps carefully before you can move any pawn. The win you see in the near future is never an assurance that your life is a battle won. Giving up on searching for what our hearts desire is the first manifestation of failure in our lives. Opportunities, as we have always known, strike once. The moment we blow our chance to take control is when our ships start to capsize. That is when our life clocks begin to count backwards. Before we know it, the waters are too much for us to swim through. Just like that, our systems stop and our energy to fight drops to baby paddles. Like our eyes, the world closes for us and all we see in our last seconds is an empty world with no innovations. You will be no more then. If you have the chance, strive to reframe your life so you can move yourself from Burdens to Benefits!