• October 25, 2020

The one thing I carried- A Refugee Story

BY CLINTON TUMANYE

Fleeing the South Sudan civil war, more than 270,000 refugees have come to live in Bidi Bidi settlement in northern Uganda. Since the settlement was established in 2016, Bidi Bidi has required WASH, food, and shelter resourcing for both its new residents the refugees and the host communities. UNHCR with partners like the Norwegian Refugee Council has been very practical in creating a home away from home for the refugees.

Stories from refugees are tales of hope, the gravity of what man can do to survive. Typical of the daily desire to survive, but with hope sheltered close to oblivion.


From mothers trekking for weeks with a baby in the belly and another on the back in such for food and shelter to family disintegration in such for sanctuary. Most refugees fled their homes with no warning, losing their property.

It is a common assumption that refugees are completely helpless. It is true that asylum seekers and refugees live a life of scarcity in their host communities. This does not mean that poverty has been their life’s state. Ironically some refugees have lived a life of abundance twice as much as their colleagues in the host communities.

The nature of war is that it is completely none discriminatory. Everyone is affected in entity but differently. No matter the cause behind an insurgency, the repercussions are often too high a price to pay. Refugee integration involves adapting to host communities without having to forego their own values and cultural identity.

Uganda’s policy on refugees has been commended world over as being arguably one of the best policies on refugees internationally.

Yeyi River State is where the South Sudanese Army clashes with rebel National Salvation Front (NAS). Susan Sandy 22, lived in Yei River State but escaped with two children, with one in had and another in her womb. She says the journey to Uganda took her two weeks. Susan’s husband with who they shortly rejoined in the settlement has since returned to S.Sudan leaving her to sell kaboyo (pancakes) to feed her two children.

She recalls that, “Walking those miles was devastating, but the breath of my children every single minute was worth my endurance.”

Julius Taban the hopeful doctor

Julius Taban 25 is a qualified medical doctor had plans to start a hospital in South Sudan in 2017. When he fled the country, he was only able to carry his medical documents. Taban has opened up a clinic in Bidi Bidi Settlement Zone 3 where he treats people in the community including members of the host community.

“Documents are important, they can always help you get back on your feet to be able to help others. I hope to be a great doctor and maybe one day I can open up a big hospital back hope in South Sudan, ” Julius Remarks.

From an engineer that had a family, owned a car and had a decent construction business to a refugee that now leaves

Damian Taban with his laptop and bag

far away from home. Damian Taban who is now a resident of village 10 in Bidi Bidi zone 10 cluster 3, believes that culture and heritage need to be preserved despite his current refugee status. Damian only managed to carry a laptop as he fled from the war.

He remarks that “We cannot let our culture disappear, it wouldn’t be fair. Even when our children are born are their grandchildren after, they should be able to appreciate their culture which we preserved while in exile.”

Night with her daughter and the saucepan she carried

For Betty Night, the issue of survival way more important than just fleeing the insurgency. The need to feed her family was a top priority as she fled from S.Sudan. Night carried a saucepan in with the hope that she would be able to feed her children as they wondered the lonely bushes.

“When they got tired, occasionally had my young babies sit in the saucepan as I carried them on my head. I did so to ensure that our journey was not slow down or else we would be raped and killed,” she says.

Luckily for 56-year-old Rose Tabo, her six children were old enough to walk when broke out. She says that her feet have never recovered from the long walk to liberation but she is glad that her children can live to see a new world while South Sudanese are not divided by tribal sentiments.

Taban who was appointed the Chairperson of the Refugee Welfare Council says, the community organises ceremonies to perform cultural dances and also use their Sunday church gatherings to preach a message of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

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