UGANDA: Refugee from South Sudan saved more than 7,000 in his community and is now working to help Salesian missionaries at Palabek Refugee Settlement
(MissionNewswire) Robert Ocan, 33 years old, is a refugee at the Palabek Refugee Camp who assists Salesian missionaries with educational projects. Before he arrived at Palabek, Ocan was a professor of chemistry and mathematics in Pajok, South Sudan, which is located 15 kilometers from the border with Uganda. When war reached the almost 50,000 people living there in April 2017, Ocan had to flee for his safety, but he didn’t go alone.
Married with two young children, Ocan heard the rebel gunfire in the city center. As soon as he did, he organized not only his family’s escape but also the escape of almost 7,000 other people. Thanks to his mobile phone, he warned the schoolteachers to bring the children into the bush. Ocan recalled, “They ran and escaped with what they were wearing and had no water or food with them.”
When Ocan was young, he also had to flee with his parents during the war of independence in Sudan. But this time, when Ocan fled to Uganda, everything was easier because the country is welcoming refugees. Ocan noted, “UNHCR buses took us to Palabek, the last refugee settlement that was opened in northern Uganda.”
Uganda has become home for more than 1.3 million refugees—82 percent of whom are women and children—in the wake of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. Millions have fled South Sudan and nearly 400,000 have died as a result of armed clashes. Many of those who have fled to Uganda, like Ocan and his family, have taken refuge at the Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda.
According to UNHCR, Palabek is currently home to nearly 46,000 refugees and asylum seekers. It was officially set up in April 2016 to reduce congestion in larger refugee camps in the northwestern corner of Uganda. Several agencies are involved in providing food and education within Palabek.
“Robert is the mediator of any conflict among the refugees, but also the highest authority of the refugees before those who manage the settlement. He has continuous meetings with UN authorities and the prime minister’s office and regularly visits every part of the camp to check that everything is in order,” explained Mariatzu, a refugee who arrived with him from Pajok.
Ocan receives no salary for his work. He is also involved in all the educational projects that the Salesians have undertaken in Palabek. Salesian missionaries at the settlement are offering much-needed psycho-social support and pastoral care for thousands of Christian residents. They also operate four nursery schools that educate more than 1,000 children. In addition, there are over 700 children attending Salesian primary and secondary schools, and more than 700 families that are supported by other initiatives.
Salesian missionaries launched a vocational training center to offer life skills and other training to help young refugees prepare for employment. Young refugees are able to attend vocational training courses for free. Depending on the discipline, some courses run for 3-6 months while others run as long as a year. Salesian missionaries have also set up a job placement office that helps students make contact with companies that are hiring, prepare resumes and prep for interviews, and find internships and on-site training opportunities.
“I have a hope of peace because Don Bosco is contributing to creating a new generation of young people,” said Ocan. “Don Bosco offers education, a great humanitarian and pastoral service and, above all, gives us hope for the future and trust in our capacities.”
Ocan’s dream, as with many refugees, is to return to South Sudan but acknowledges that it will take a few years. He added, “It is not enough for peace agreements to be signed. Clashes must end, free elections must be held, whoever wins must be recognized as the winner, a government must be formed and we all must start working together for peace. To do all this, at least five years must pass.”
ANS Photo (usage permissions and guidelines must be requested from ANS)
Salesian Missions – Uganda