Corona Virus has pushed the whole world into disarray. As in most crisis, the poor, the oppressed and the lower section of the society suffer the most. Among the most vulnerable are the refugees. They are deprived of their homeland, freedom and often basic human dignity. They are always stand in need of everything, just to keep alive. They are pushed to miserable poverty, but most of them were not born poor or lived in poverty. But suddenly they find themselves in misery due to war or another emergency situation.
Once an elderly refugee leader came to his little grass hut carrying his meager portion of monthly ration of food consist of 12 kilograms of maize flour, 9 kilograms of beans and 900 milliliter of oil and broke down to tears. I tried to console him and enquired him about the cause of his tears. With heavy heart he said, “Father, I am a leader, I have grown up children, I lived respectful life… but now I am forced to stand in queue and given this meager quantity of food that should take me for a month… It is a big humiliation for me to receive this food; I should be the one feeding others…” For a dignified person to be given a small quota of food like a destitute is indeed painful. This refugee whom I called “Dad” gave me food and shelter in the first year of my Refugee Ministry in Palabek, Uganda.
The Coronavirus epidemic has made many people in want. Economist and social analysists predict that over quarter of the world population can be just around the poverty line. Millions are expected to lose jobs and other security. When this is the case with many refugees in Uganda are told to tighten their belts. In April they received only 70% of their regular food ration. That is, in the new ration, they are given 9 kilograms of maize flour, 6 kilograms of beans and about half a liter of oil and a few grams of salt. Now they are told to survive. These Persons of Concern (PoC) are also told that due to the lack of funding from international bodies, the food ration will be reduced further. Children are further pushed into malnutrition, stunt growth and their mothers into stress and worry.
Now for food security in the coming months, the solution is to cultivate food—cereals, vegetables, and if possible, some cash crops such as sim sim, groundnuts and sunflower. Now it is important to be very creative and innovative in engaging the refugees in agriculture. The following things need to be done: promote kitchen garden of vegetables and fruits, hire land from the local Ugandans, make agreement to work together with the host community, keep poultry, pigs and goats and the like.
Don Bosco Response
The permanent presence of five priests living right in the midst of refugees is a blessing to them and to their flock—refugees. We understand their needs and share their concerns and often times their own challenges. As rains are on and planting season is catching up with them, the real need of refugees is seeds, seedlings and simple hand tools. As most of the NGOs have left due to uncertainty of COVID 19 Lockdown, Salesians are the first service providers in action. We have provided several hundred kilos of Maize, Beans, Soya beans, Sim Sim, Groundnuts, and many assorted vegetable seeds. We have also provided some tons of Casava cuttings. As we are still counting our beneficiaries, they are already in several thousands.
As refugees do not have sufficient land but interested in cultivating larger pieces of land, we have put them in groups and hired land for them from the local Ugandan neighbours; where necessary we have ploughed the land for them. When the locals are inspired to till more land, we also ended up helping them. We thank our partners Don Bosco Jugendhilfe Weltweit (JuWe) for their support.
We appeal to our friends for more help. Thanking you and wishing you God’s blessing.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB – Director, Don Bosco Palabek. (firstname.lastname@example.org)354