Playing the trauma away

Students of Yoyo primary and Mengo Primary having a friendly match

By Carolyne Atuhura

Students of Yoyo primary and Mengo Primary having a friendly match

For some it is leisure, others passion or just something to watch to pass the time.Every day, it is the same on this field, located in the heart of BidiBidi refugee settlement.  But not for Florence Lemi Pudi, not by the furthest shot! Sports for the 16-year-old is more than just a game; it awakens her soul that had dissolved into the aches of the war. The trauma for this teenager, also a South Sudanese refugee, is too much, she said. So she must find something to forget her pain – and here, sports will do.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)Resettlement Handbook, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among refugees ranges from 39 to 100 percent. The effects cut across all age groups and demographics but are commonly worse for women and children. Pudi’s story, however, gives a ray of hope on one way refugees are overcoming trauma in the settlement.

Florence’s story

“When the war broke out, we had to flee South Sudan,”Pudi said, delving into her journey to the refugee settlement.“We used our natural transport; that is walking. At a point I felt like giving up, but my aunt encouraged me to keep walking until we find a safe place.”

Florence Lemi Pudi at Yoyo Secondary school

She told of the trauma she faced, including hearing “sounds of guns, not being sure if her parents are safe or not,” she recalled. “It became even worse when we reached the settlement. I had no friends; I was not going to school, so I spent my days isolated thinking about what was happening back home.”

At Yoyo Secondary School where Florence is a student, 96percent of the 1,214 students are refugees. Like many students who go to this school located in BidiBidi Zone 3,the teenager who also attributes her ability to overcome trauma to sports plays football, netball, and is a remarkable athlete. She maintained that engaging in sports activities has helped keep her mind occupied and bundled away the misery that came from thinking about her past.

Her sports journey started way back in South Sudan in 2014 when she picked interest in running, and ever since then she has carried on her passion. “When I run or play any other sport, it brings back the good memories I had in South Sudan and I feel closer to home yet so far away,” she said.

Joseph Asali, the person in charge of education in the settlement, said that like any other education program, students in the settlement receive a full packaged education. The education program that is implemented in partnership with UNHCR is quite firm on involving sports activities whereby all students are participants.

Thriving through sports

What might have started out as a way to sooth her trauma became a new passion for Pudi. The adolescent recently participated in the 200m race at zone level, where she not only emerged as winner but she was also the only girl selected for that particular race. After her victory, Florence became the first refugee girl to ever participate in district competitions.

An ecstatic Florence then went on to the district competitions that were held in Soroti, represented Yumbe district and emerged third in the 400m race. It didn’t matter that Florence ran with bare feet; she took the third place with such honor and returned to high respect back home. The headmaster of Yoyo Secondary School, Alokore Drani Hamton, said Florence individually fetched 29 points for the school at the district competitions. He is quick to also speak of how much progress has been made in healing and integration through sports.

“When [the refugees] came, there was a lot of stress, alot of trauma and they could not settle in easily,” Hamton said. “But when they joined the school, they participated in football, netball, volleyball; these sports have helped to integrate them within the community. At certain times when there are competitions in the zone, these students join their various teams depending on the zones they belong to.” He emphasized just how much sports activities have bettered and created relationships among the host community and the refugees.

Bidal Kennedy, the sports captain at Yoyo Secondary School, affirmed that football and sports in general has enabled many refugees to move beyond the settlement.

Aerial view of Bidibidi refugee settlement

“In football we always have home and away matches,” he said.“Now when it comes to away matches like the zone league where we played in Swinga, we were able to meet new people in that if I now go to Swinga I will interact with the people there freely, and that experience makes me forget about all the things that we lost in South Sudan.”

While in Bidibidi the evening hours amaze passerby’s with cheers from the playground, sights of children running and a fulfilling atmosphere of happiness. With continued support to the education sector, in particular sports, many refugees gain hope to play their trauma away.

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