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Uganda, 27 April 2017: Host communities and refugees coexist peacefully despite strained resources

© UNICEF Uganda
Grace Among washes her hands within the school compund.

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

Following the insurgency in South Sudan in 2013, Uganda opened her borders to thousands of refugees. Uganda is now host to 821,178 refugees from the conflict affected country with an average daily arrival of 2,180 refugees, since July 2017. Majority of the refugees have since started a new life in various settlements in Northern Uganda and are integrated with Uganda host communities, enjoying the same social services – health, education, water, sanitation and protection.

Grace Among, a 17 year old adolescent girl, is among the many refugees that arrived last year, all alone, after losing both parents. “We walked for days in fear but when we arrived here, everyone people were good to us,” Grace narrates. The beginning was hard but a few months later, life got better when I was reunited with my Auntie.” Her focus and passion right now is education and she is happy that she is able to receive an education, despite being away from home.

At Zoka Central Primary School, where Grace is enrolled in Primary seven, refugee children make up the largest number of pupils. Approximately 1,328 refugee children and 232 nationals are studying with Grace in this government aided school. According to Guma John Paul, the Deputy Head Teacher, the number of the pupils has more than doubled since the refugee influx. “We have since taken in more and more refugees but all the pupils regardless of their nationality, enjoy the same services offered.” “All children have a right to an education, that is why we are non-discriminative,” he continues. Guma also adds that when the school receives scholastic materials, they are distributed to every child as long as they are enrolled pupils of the school. The school has also enrolled refugee teachers.

In the same school, despite the ever increasing number of pupils, the nationals are happy to share the already crowded classrooms, compound, and sanitation facilities. Grace shares her desk with six other children. As a result of the great hospitality, refugee children like Grace are able to attend and enjoy school. Grace looks forward to attending school every day because her friends treat her well. “My best friend is a national. When I don’t have some necessities like books, pens, she gives me a few and I also give her some items when we receive our rations,” Grace says with a smile. Grace is currently the Head of the School Health club, a position she holds with a lot of confidence and is well respected.

Zoka Primary School located in Nyumanzi refugee settlement, Adjumani District, benefitted from the UNICEF supported solar powered motorised water system designed and installed with funding from UKaid. With a tap stand in the school compound, pupils are assured of safe drinking water, water for handwashing, water to clean their latrines and water for girls to utilise during their menstrual periods. Grace mentions that with the availability of the water in the school compound, her role as the head of the school health club is much easier but quickly mentions that the available latrines are not adequate for the big numbers of pupils and require cleaning all the time. “When you have clean water, the diseases are reduced. She wants to be a doctor after school. “Many people are dying of diseases, I want to prevent these diseases,” she asserts. The clean water at the school is also accessed by teachers and the neighbouring community.

Elsewhere in Bidibidi refugee settlement, Yumbe District, UNICEF is also providing clean and safe water to thousands of refugees and host communities. In Zone 1 located near Twajiji village, mothers from the host community guard the water tap stand installed last year, jealously. Hamida, a mother and chairperson of the water user committee recalls that before the system, the community collected unsafe water which they shared with animals, from a valley, 4 kilometres away. “The water system installed after the arrival of the refugees, came as a relief to us. Today, we have clean water and in plenty,” she says. Hamida affirms that there is no friction between them as nationals and refugees at the water point. The water user committee also includes refugees and all of them ensure the water system is well maintained, clean as well as encourage people to clean their water containers to avoid contamination. Hamida confirms that the local population has greatly benefitted from the refugees.

In Yoyo Health Centre III, Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, hundreds of patients arrive in the morning for health care services, majority of them, refugees. Dr. Eric Oguti, the In-charge confirms that the number of patients at the centre escalated since the arrival of the refugees. At the outpatient unit, 80 per cent of the patients received are refugees and those admitted make up 95 per cent. “The refugee population at this Centre is four times the local population but we serve all of them equally, we don’t discriminate,” Dr. Oguti stresses.

Mr. Abassi Mansour, the District Health Educator and focal person for UNICEF support confirms that the approach utilised for all health interventions in Yumbe District is integrated. “We put everything in one basket and target both nationals and refugees,” he adds. At the Health Centre, UNICEF, through the district, supported the recruitment of health workers to support with the pressure from the refugees; supports immunization services; provided equipment like delivery beds, beds for patients in the paediatric and maternity wards; provides therapeutic milk and plumpy nut; supported the training of Village Health Team members in newborn care, among many other interventions.

To further support refugees live a dignified life, in 2016, the United Nations and World Bank developed the Refugee and Host Population Empowerment (ReHOPE) strategy that will help refugees and host communities improve their living conditions as well as foster peaceful coexistence. UNICEF through its current Country Programme is contributing to the ReHOPE strategy by providing integrated social services and ensures the support inclusively addresses the rights and protection of refugees and host communities.



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