Bidi Bidi Settlement

Over the ten years I’ve worked for MAF, I’ve witnessed the beauty and transformation our passengers bring about in this hurting world.

MAF’s programme in Uganda helps address the problems caused by the violent conflict in South Sudan that resulted in thousands of people taking refuge in Uganda.

Last year, I visited Bidi Bidi – the largest refugee settlement in the world – to see how MAF Uganda is helping some 280,000 South Sudanese refugees. The vast settlement is spread out over 88.8 square miles of land that have been leased long-term by local landowners.

Uganda, which has received over 1 million refugees, has been hailed as the most successful refugee setup in the world.

‘They want to help’

When I visited the Office of the Prime Minister, the Community Services Assistant told us that ‘the locals in the area felt their brothers and sisters in South Sudan needed their help. Even though there’s a border, they felt they wanted to help them with their challenges.’

The refugees, who are happy they are safe, are provided with shelter, water, roads and schools. The agencies involved try not to create aid dependency; giving able-bodied refugees that arrive a tarpaulin, some poles and a piece of land where they can build a house in the same way they would do back home.

They can grow crops or create some kind of industry so they can sell their products or produce outside the settlement.

‘It puts a smile on my face’

War Child Canada offers legal aid for those who’ve survived Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and runs an Accelerated Learning Programme that helps the refugees integrate into Uganda’s school curriculum.

Jennifer, a trained lawyer, loves her job. ‘Being able to impact a change in someone else’s life,’ she says, ‘puts a smile on my face. The perpetrators [of SGBV] know they’ll be caught. A lot of the cases are related to intimate domestic violence and early marriage which is culturally acceptable among most communities in South Sudan, though not in Uganda.’

Thanks to legal intervention and community awareness, the problem is being addressed and its scale and magnitude is decreasing. The settlers, says Jennifer, ‘are learning about their rights and the rights of others, which will hopefully impact South Sudan once the refugees are able to return.’

Interviewing at Bidi Bidi

Interviewing in the Warchild Canada ALP Tents

‘There must be love’

War Child’s Accelerated Learning Programme is similarly successful. Eighteen-year-old Robert Moki came to Bidi Bidi after fleeing the border town of Kya2 because people were being randomly killed.

Although Robert couldn’t afford South Sudan’s school fees, he was able to finish his schooling in Bidi Bidi free of charge. He’s achieving top grades, and wants to be a doctor. Nema, age 19, has a similar story. She works hard and wants to become an accountant.

Thanks to War Child and other organisations, young people like 18-year-old Franco Santos have the opportunity to become influential leaders in the refugee community, which – when they finally return to South Sudan – bodes well for the country’s future.

Franco thanks War Child for their help, saying ‘We have learnt that good leaders must be kind to their people, forgiving and loving each other. In a good community, there must be love.’

Warchild Student

One of the students from the Warchild Canada Accelerated Learning Program

‘We saw people slaughtered’

Christian NGO and regular MAF flyer Samaritan’s Purse is also motivated by love –providing the refugees with water, food and teaching on sanitation and hygiene. Thanks to them, 68% of the settlers now have their own latrines – which prevents fatal outbreaks of cholera and dysentery from taking place.

They are also digging bore holes and providing 1,000 refugees with paid work.

David Minjo, who fled with his wife and four children, says, ‘I thank God for this day. In Yei, soldiers would come in the night and kill people. We saw people slaughtered like goats. It took us seven days to walk here by foot with our small children.’ His brother was one of those killed.

Refugee family from Yei

Refugee family from Yei who are now safe and have benefited from SP’s support

‘MAF pilots comforted me’

Charpman Magagula, Regional Manager of Samaritan’s Purse, loves MAF. ‘I got onto a flight and the pilots said, “Let’s ask God for protection before the flight.” This really blessed and comforted me.

‘Without MAF, we’d spend seven hours just driving from Kampala to Arua. I’ve seen many influential people coming in with MAF to the camps to assess the situation. If we didn’t have MAF, it would reduce the help that comes here.’

MAF now provides roughly five shuttles a week to Bidi Bidi. As we continue to offer as much support as possible to the 475 partners serving in northern Uganda, it’s encouraging to see what a difference they are making to the immense number of refugees whose lives depend on it.

After visiting a couple of Warchild Canada’s education programs which entailed driving hours in between, we then drove from one Zone to another to visit Samaritan’s Purse. Driving from one zone to another entailed 1 lengthy 1 hour and 30 minutes drive, just to give you an idea of how massive Bidi Bidi is. Because of needing to reach Arua by dark, we didn’t have time to stop for lunch and managed two pit latrine stops over the 16 hour day!

We were greeted by Samaritan’s Purse who kindly gave us a cup of hot tea made by one of the refugee families. The regional manager showed us around the area which was just like a cluster of mud huts with straw roof-tops identical to the villages I had seen in South Sudan. Everything was very tidy and clean and it was very apparent how much Samaritan’s Purse were assisting the refugees with latrine kits, hand washing kits, economically designed cooking areas, washing up elevated kits…all designed to keep outbreaks of cholera and dysentery away. Again, way more positive then I was at first expecting.

Wash Kits

Using one of the SP’s handy Tippy Tippy WASH kits

Although we were exhausted by the time we had made the 2.5 hour drive back to Arua, we tumbled into the little hotel there at 9pm, hungry, dirty, but totally satisfied with the day and all of the smiles we had met on every face that we had the privilege of meeting.
MAF needs to be in the places in the world it is needed most. MAF Uganda are playing a significant role in flying daily shuttles up to the north of Uganda where the four refugee settlements are based.

The reality is that the South Sudanese are exhausted with having the hope of their nation being born and smashed apart, but the welcome and help they are receiving in Uganda has become the silver lining and is helping them bide this difficult time of waiting for their nation to repair itself hopefully in my lifetime.

Author: Jill Vine

Photographer: Clare Wise de Wet & Jill