It was such a sudden surprise for me that we would go to a refugee camp for 14 days when I was enjoying courses in SINA, on the other hand, I was so excited to experience a new setting while worried about the courses I was going to skip in those 14 days as well. But it turns out that there was no regret and bothers at all.
I had no images and only received news from TV about the refugee, and yet that news was so segmented and only showed their worse living condition without any additional attachments. In addition, I have never thought that I can go to visit a refugee camp in my whole life as I always think they are far away from me and there are no such topics in my daily life at all.
It was the first time for me to meet refugees when I arrived at SINA, where I heard people talking about refugees and how was their life before. I had a talk with one of my African friends on the very first morning of me staying in SINA, his name is Mawa, he told me that he is a refugee who came from South Sudan to escape the war and now trying to live in Uganda. I got so surprised by his expression of how he was avoiding soldiers on the border and finally found a way to Uganda, because I could never imagine this could happen to me, let alone to understand his situation, but at least, I saw the other side of life which happens in the world. Mawa has the vision to apply the SINA model back to the refugee camp where he used to live and empower those refugees and he has created it when the time I left, Now he has his own organization to achieve the big vision in the refugee camp.
On the day I was going to another refugee camp which is Nakivale, my African friend asked me the envision about refugee camps then he said you would feel so different there and indeed it was so stunning than I could imagine. Nakivale is located in southwestern Uganda. The refugee settlement was started in 1959 and is of a more permanent nature. An estimated 80,000 people (refugees and Ugandans) reside in Nakivale. The journey was long enough with almost 8 hours of public bus and also a taxi, and we were so exhausted. It was the night when I reached there, so I did not know what was the outlook of this refugee camp. On the next morning, I saw there was yellow soil road everywhere and plants fence around each house, and it can be seen that the shadow of war has faded, and people live a simple and calm life here even with limited resources and fragile houses, they live there happily.
They have a UNHCR refugee center to issue their identity and also distribute free food every month, the Uganda government gives refugee free medical services, and several countries offer assistance as well but unfortunately China is not there to help. Once the new refugee comes, they can have a temporary tent and free house and food later on. There are several playgrounds and water fetch points with thousands of households and several schools inside. This has broken my inherent understanding of the refugee camp.
It is interesting to point out that most refugees come from 8 different countries nearby, and they prefer to settle with their country people, so we were introduced there were different zones and each zone named with their own country where they come from. They keep their country food and languages as well, so I can experience the style of 8 different countries at one time and one place. Most people from different regions communicate with KiSwahili, a language that embraces the difference and harmony among different zones, and they also can speak English and French. But on the whole, people live happily with different countries and religions together, I can see that they perspective Nakivale as their home and live as local citizens. I even imagine that when the end of the world comes, the whole world may look like Nakivale, where people can still live together peacefully no matter what is people’s skin color and which religion they belong to.
I enjoyed most food there was Ethiopian food, which was so delicious for me at that time because I always get plain traditional African food and it was not catering for me. Because as a Sichuanese, a person who is always looking for a spicy and strong taste, Ethiopian food meets all my needs. So actually, this was one of the reasons that keep me alive there. Except for the food, the people were also friendly, inside the Unleashed, we were talking and learning together without borders and enjoyed our good time, while when we went outside, people called us Mzungu which means white people in African language, I felt discomfort at the first time, but then habituated when time goes by. I even met some people trying to say a few Chinese words like “Nihao” means hello when they saw me walking on the street. There was one man can even communicate with me in Chinese even with the poor pronunciation and he said he learned Chinese in Confucius Institute pf Congo, his original country. I was so surprised by our African people.
I was facing some difficulties in Nakivale as well. There is no drinking water system and people telling me that most residents drink dirty water which comes from water fetch point if they have no money to buy bottled water. I can buy bottled water to drink, but I still need to use the dirty water to take a shower, which made my body grow herpes and caused discomfort. It was such a condition for me, then let alone other people who lived there. The instruments were also scarce, so we have to borrow some tables and chairs when other people came and visited Unleashed. We also had to sit on the ground during class, which is definitely a unique experience. It was so much for people to bear, especially for those who don’t have money. Life is tough there but people are striving for a better life. There were several stores and restaurants that people can run a small business and earn money normally. Children have governmental and private schools to have normal education and several NGOs provide social or emotional services for people to let them get out of the haze of war and live a better life.
People are lucky to be in Nakivale compared with other people who are suffering from wars, Nakivale for them is a new place to start their life, a new place to chase their dreams. I am also lucky to experience the other side of the world. 14 days is very short for me. I have not had an in-depth conversation with local refugees and I have no further understanding of their lives yet. I wish that one day I will visit Nakivale again and I also wish the peace comes to every corner of the world, brings love and harmony.
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