UGANDA: Salesian missionaries building new structures and programs in Palabek Refugee Camp
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries recently launched a new Salesian center for South Sudanese refugees in at the Don Bosco Palabek Refugees Resettlement Camp in northern Uganda. The refugee camp is currently hosting 42,000 people with an average of 300 new refugees arriving each week from South Sudan. The camp was officially set up in April 2016 to reduce congestion in larger refugee camps in the northwestern corner of Uganda. Uganda hosts close to 1.3 million refugees.
Salesian missionaries working within the refugee camp report that 86 percent of the refugees there are women and children. The elderly comprise two percent. There are very few men, but a significant number of teenage boys are among the population. After reporting to the security, each household of five people is given a shelter and a few household items. Shelters are made of tarpaulin roofs and walls are held together with sticks and nails. Each household is given 30×30 meters of land, as well as 100 liters of water a day to manage all the home needs.
The archbishop of Gulu recently appointed Salesian Father Lazar Arasu as the chaplain of the refugees in the archdiocese. Salesian missionaries founded five chapels in the camp including St. John Bosco, Mary Help of Christians, Holy Cross, Daniel Comboni and Mother Theresa. The chapels are used for Catholic mass as well as a meeting place for young women and their children. There are games for youth, community meetings on peace issues and agriculture activities. Salesian missionaries are in the process of setting up nursery and primary schools. The goal is additional vocational training will follow.
Fr. Arasu is working with some of the youth in the camp to help teach them additional skills to aid the construction efforts. Catholics in the camp have donated six large plots of land for the construction of chapels and educational programs. Many of the refugees in the camp are the ones who have built its existing structures, including the small house that Fr. Arasu lives in. He is grateful for all of the work that refugees do in the camp to help one another.
“It is not the Salesians who distribute food, but the refugees who support the Salesians and offer some of their food to new friends and pastors,” says Fr. Arasu. “In the evening after 5.00 p.m., staff from other humanitarian agencies leave the refugee camp to return to their own lodgings, in a nearby city, after a hard day’s work. The Salesians, instead, remain in the refugee camp, among the people.”
Close to 67 percent of Ugandans are either poor or highly vulnerable to poverty, according to UNICEF. While the country has seen some economic growth as well as improvement in its Human Development Index ranking over the last 20 years, the country still ranks near the bottom at 163 out of 188 countries. After decades of war left many displaced, the people of Uganda face many significant challenges as they work to rebuild their country.
Uganda’s literacy rate has improved with 73 percent of the population literate but only 23 percent of Ugandans go on to acquire a secondary education. According to UNICEF, one of the biggest challenges in the country is combating the serious increase of HIV/AIDS that has left millions of children orphaned.