UGANDA: Salesian missionaries are providing food support to refugees in Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp in wake of the devastating hunger crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic
(MissionNewswire) The Catholic News Service is reporting that 1.4 million refugees in Uganda are facing hunger because of aid disruption, loss of income and rising food prices linked to the COVID-19 crisis. Salesian missionaries living and working at the Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp are seeing the effects first hand. They have been supporting refugees since the opening of the camp in 2016.
Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp 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.
Salesian missionaries at the settlement are offering much needed psychosocial 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 are supported by other initiatives. Salesian missionaries also launched a vocational training center to offer life skills and other training to help young refugees prepare for employment.
Since the pandemic hit, conditions at Palabek have deteriorated with a loss of food and wages. 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.
Adol Majok, a 38-year-old single mother, told her story to the Catholic News Service. She arrived at Palabek three years ago after her husband was killed during fighting in Pajok, South Sudan. After she was settled in the camp, Majok opened a small tea stall business where she sold tea, bread, biscuits, roasted peanuts, cakes and other food. Since the pandemic began, business has dried up along with her means to support her family.
Majok said in the Catholic News Service article, “My children are starving. They haven’t eaten anything for the last three days. They are going to die unless I get them food to eat.”
Salesian missionaries at Palabek are helping refugees with food, clothing and other essential goods. Salesian Father Lazar Arasu, director of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services, told Catholic News Service, “Refugees who are among vulnerable groups should be remembered because COVID-19 robbed them of the little that they had. They are suffering because they are the worst hit by the pandemic. The food ration has reduced because of the lockdown. But we are trying our best to help them with everything during this hard time.”
In addition to providing food directly, Salesian missionaries are working to counter the food shortage through the cultivation of food including cereals, vegetables, and if possible, some cash crops such as sim sim, groundnuts and sunflower. The goal is to promote kitchen gardens of vegetables and fruits, hire land from the local Ugandans, and create agreements to work together with the host community. Salesians have provided several hundred kilos of maize, beans, soya beans, sim sim, groundnuts and many assorted vegetable seeds. They have also provided tons of cassava cuttings.
“Because refugees do not have sufficient land but are interested in cultivating larger pieces of land, we have put them in groups and hired land for them from the local Ugandan neighbors,” explained Fr. Arasu. “Where necessary we have also plowed the land for them. When the locals are inspired to till more land, we also ended up helping them.”
Fr. Arasu is also concerned about the psychological impact of COVID-19. He told the Catholic News Service that he is worried that the economic hardship might further exacerbate mental health conditions in refugee populations. Providing information, counseling and psychosocial support for vulnerable refugees is something the Salesians have been doing and will continue to do.
“Refugees need our support and prayers all the time. They have experienced a lot. Many have been tortured, lost their loved ones, lost properties and even (been) raped,” said Fr. Arasu in the Catholic News Service article. “We are offering pastoral care and counseling to refugees during the pandemic to make them feel wanted.”
Salesians will continue to assess the ongoing situation at Palabek and work within their networks to provide support to those most in need.
Photo courtesy of Don Bosco Palabek
Catholic News Service – COVID-19 robbed refugees ‘of the little that they had,’ says Salesian
Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp Facebook
Salesian Missions – Uganda