It's World Refugee Day (Monday 20 June 2022), at the start of World Refugee Week. While the number of people fleeing Ukraine continues to increase, the global total of those displaced has now reached a shocking 100 million.
World Refugee Week 2022
Refugees often arrive with nothing. We provide immediate, and long term support
The huge number of people who have now had to flee their home in fear can sometimes make us forget that each statistic is a real person facing personal disaster. People like Cizarina.
Cizarina is a 70-year-old grandmother living in a refugee camp in Uganda. This is her third time as a refugee. “I’ve been running throughout my life. I’m now too old. I can’t run anymore. My only wish for my country is peace.”
She recalls her life in front of her one-bedroom house, built with World Vision support. Houses like this - with a congregated iron roof - are a rarity.
As a baby, Cizarina lost an arm in an accident. Her life continued to be a series of hardships.
“I don’t wish it on my worst enemy”
The first time she sought refuge in Uganda was during the first Sudan civil war.
“I was a little girl,” says Cizarina, tears filling her eyes. “We ran with my parents.” The second time was during the second Sudan civil war. For Cizarina, married, seven months pregnant and with two children under three, the journey and experience was traumatic. She was now solely responsible for her children, as her husband had stayed behind.
Cizarina’s life as a refugee in Uganda was fraught with challenges. “It’s an experience I would rather not talk about,” she says as she shakes her head, facing down. “I don’t even wish it [on] my worst enemy.”
Thankfully, her husband was able to join her six months later.
The third time she fled was in 2015, when the war reached her village again. Cizarina escaped, along with two children and two grandchildren. This time Cizarina’s husband and three of her sons didn’t escape. She doesn't know whether they are alive or dead. She has had no news about them since.
“I came bare handed,” she says. “I got a plot of land, but I couldn’t construct a house by myself because I was sick and weak. I couldn’t send my grandchildren to school. Imagine someone who used to work on her farm, now depending on handouts.”
Long term support
Cizarina is among more than 215,000 South Sudanese refugees living in Adjumani district in Uganda. Most of them don’t know when, or if, they can go back to their home country. In these situations, along with immediate assistance, long-term support is needed, including support to cope with trauma and opportunities to earn a living.
World Vision is training refugees how to farm more efficiently and connecting them to markets for their harvests. The programme also offers entrepreneurship and leadership training to refugees so that they can start living dignified lives.
Cizarina’s entrepreneurship Asante group became a lifeline for her. The members meet every week to share their stories, progress and new ideas on how to improve their lives. The Asante group was supported to acquire a mill.
“I used to have a lot of worries because of what I have been through,” she says. “But when World Vision came into our lives, I cried tears of joy. I realised there are still good people with beautiful hearts out there. Thanks to your gift, I have hope and feel encouraged to live on.”
Help diffuse tensions
For years, women refugees in this settlement were responsible for finding a mill to grind grain into flour. The daily chore was time-consuming and difficult. Thanks to the gift of the grinding mill, women like Cizarina no longer have to hike for miles to the nearest mill to grind their grain. They now walk just a few steps as the mill is a stone’s throw away.
Harriet, 20, also a member of the Asante group, says entrepreneurship groups are also helping to diffuse tensions between family members and reduce the risk of domestic violence.
“Whenever I have domestic problems, I share with my group,” said Harriet. “One day, my husband beat me up and burnt all my clothes. I talked to my group members for advice. They visited my home and counselled both of us about the benefits of ending violence in our home.”
Harriet and her husband are living peacefully now, and have also learned anger management skills.
Abraham, 29, chairperson of the Asante group, says they are committed to promoting and practicing love. “We are united and work together. For example, the food ration we get is not enough, but no member has to sleep on an empty stomach. Fellow members share their food. If it is about buying medicine or books for children, we collect some money from each member and contribute.”
With income saved, the group now plans to purchase more mills and to set up a series of new businesses to generate more income.
“When we got here, we were only getting food rations,” says Abraham. “As refugees, we succeed not because things are easy for us, but because of resilience and the grace of God, and friends like World Vision. We push through the darkness and we sail against storms. We persist even when ignored. With this mill, our life circumstances have changed. We are more than conquerors through Christ. Our new lifestyle is now like that of nationals.”
Rose, Cizarina’s granddaughter, takes their goats, received from World Vision, to the nearby bushes, while Cizarina says, “Today our faces are shining. There’s a lot of change in our lives. What we have been through cannot disappear at once. It’s a process.”