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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Adjumani 2

As promised here's some shots from a trip to one of the refugee camps near Adjumani.

The numerous refugee camps are spread out across a large area around Adjumani. The idea is that each family unit receives a small plot of land, large enough to support a little garden. They are expected to cultivate that land, and grow some food to supplement the food they're given by the UN and other NGO's. This concept results in camps that can be quite vast, and often many kilometers apart from one another.

Thus, after landing at the Adjumani airstrip, we still had to still drive a few kilometers (an hour or so) to get to the camp we were visiting. It was the beginning of dry season when we made the trip, and although dry, dusty conditions prevailed, the lingering effects of rainy season were still evident. That's us in the little car below. Road travel to remote locations in East Africa is not only arduous, but often quite dangerous as well. 

As mentioned in the previous post, I was joining one of our partner agencies, Tutapona, who were visiting the Maaji Refugee settlement that day. Here's how Tutapona describes what they do on their website: "We bring emotional healing through trauma rehabilitation to victims of rape, mutilation, abduction, former child soldiers, and anyone affected by the horror of war. We train leaders on the ground in local regions affected by war and develop local teams of indigenous workers to carry on the effort within their own culture.  We partner with local leaders and organizations to bring emotional healing and restoration to as many people as possible."

Below, one of Tutapona's Ugandan facilitators talks with a lady who has benefited from their trauma rehabilitation curriculum. She was sharing her gripping, emotional story with us, and he was doing what he does so well as a trained facilitator, as well as translating her words so we could understand.

Later, members of Tutapona staff, along with MAF Uganda's communications officer, Jill, prayed with this young lady, who has suffered more than most of us ever will, yet who has received hope and courage to press on.

Here, several of the Tutapona staff are conducting one of their trauma counseling meetings under a tree in the Maaji refugee settlement.

After hearing several heart-breaking stories, and knowing that these stories were not the exception, but rather the norm among the many tens of thousands of refugees in the Adjumani area, it would not be surprising to see the vast majority of refugees bearing the heavy lines of grief, anger, and despair on their weary faces.

And yet, while these burdens and emotions can clearly be seen and felt, what's shocking to me is to see so many smiles breaking through, and to hear so much laughter permeating the silence, especially from the children. That, I was not expecting.

For many, the journey to these camps was made on the bare soles of their weathered feet, or if they were lucky, with scraps of old shoes that most of us would deem worthless for a stroll to check our mailbox. Yet these desperate (mostly) women and children were fleeing their young country in a high-stakes, international journey, where the prize for success means life, and the penalty for failure could mean death. This, while carrying their entire worldly possessions on their back (if any are left) and leaving all they know behind, often including many of their family members, both alive and dead.

Life is not easy in these camps, yet many have reason to be thankful when they arrive. Finally, they are safe from the constant fear of death. They are provided with the basic essentials to survive. Many people are working to ensure that they get both the physical and emotional help they need to deal with the trauma they have suffered. 

For you and me, it might seem like a horrible inconvenience to have to walk 10 or 20 minutes each way, to wait in line to fill jerry cans of water at a well, and then to carry these heavy jugs back to your hut. But for these young women, it's an incredible relief, not just to have clean water available, but to be able to access it without fear of violence from men.

As in the villages from where they came, almost everyone is expected to work in these camps, including the children. Here, kids are carrying rice and vegetables on their heads (the preferred method of moving heavy items) under the heat of the noon-day sun.

The creativity of children is always amazing to me. How many of you have ever given a child an expensive electronic toy for Christmas, only to see them a few hours later choosing to play instead with the box in which the toy came? Sometimes the most exciting toy available is our own imagination, and these kids certainly don't lack that. In the last post I shared a picture of a home-made cardboard truck. I was fascinated to watch the intense concentration and effort with which this young boy was designing and fabricating his vehicle. He clearly took great pride in his work, and was amazingly skilled and creative with the resources he had available.

Nearby, his younger sister pulled another vehicle along with a string tied to a stick.

And here, in the foreground, you can see a typical, home-made ball, which can be formed from just about anything, and is frankly far more impervious to the sharp stones and acacia thorns of East Africa, than any expensive soccer ball used in the West. 

I'm glad that MAF is now serving Tutapona, LWF, the UN, and many other agencies and missions working to serve the huge refugee communities around Adjumani. Please remember to pray for these dear people, and for the country of South Sudan.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Adjumani 1

Over the past few years, tens of thousands have fled the civil war and tribal fighting of South Sudan, and settled in one of many refugee camps surrounding remote Adjumani, in far Northern Uganda.

Above, refugee children use their imagination, creativity, and whatever scraps of rubbish can be found to make treasured toys, like this cardboard and wire truck, sporting moving wheels made from the scraps of old flip flop. Below, this dear elderly lady lost many immediate family members in the fighting, including her own children. She fled with her now orphaned grandchildren to Uganda, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Stories like this are common among the throngs of war refugees that now call Uganda home.

Almost a year ago MAF was approached by several missions and NGOs working with the refugees in the Adjumani area. They inquired as to what it would take to re-open the long overgrown airstrip in Adjumani, so MAF could provide regular service there. In March of last year I went up to survey the old site--there was no sign of a runway having previously existed there. But here we are, not quite one year later, and thanks to the hard work and funding of the LWF, the UN, local officials, and others, Adjumani now has one of the nicest murram (the famous East African red dirt) strips in all of Uganda!

And MAF is flying here regularly now--serving many missions, international NGOs, and humanitarian workers who are working directly with the staggering needs of the refugees.

I took the above two shots when we flew (myself and my good friend and fellow MAF pilot, Matt) two plane loads of LWF reps up to Adjumani a few weeks ago. This used to be an arduous, not to mention dangerous, all-day journey by land from Kampala... or a combination of a flight to Gulu, and land travel from there. But now, it's a quick, safe, and comfortable one hour and 25 minutes on the wings of MAF!

As you can see, the children show up in droves to greet the planes. Of course, that happens just about everywhere, but certainly seeing a plane here in Adjumani is a very unique thing, and not something to be missed!

MAF pilot, Matt, greets one of the local LWF members in Adjumani. LWF is one of the key agencies that helped push for the completion of the new airstrip, and secure funding and provide oversight. They are partnered with the UNHCR and others to oversee many of the needs of the refugees in the Adjumani area.

After seeing off his passengers, Matt completes a walk-a-round prior to departing Adjumani. MAF operates in many remote locations around the world, with an astounding safety record. It doesn't happen that way by accident. In addition to the grace of God, we clearly rely on highly trained pilots who use thorough and long-proven procedures, and are regularly evaluated, as well as top notch maintenance and an entire team of support staff.

And here he is departing Adjumani.

Next time I'll take you into one of the refugee camps with one of our other partner agencies, Tutapona, to see what they are doing to help serve the refugees of Adjumani.