PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — An Uganda Journey, Part 3

Our second day in the settlements took us to Olua, which is a bit closer to Adjuman, a little over a half hour away.

The two camps are very different. Olua is more concentrated, so it appears to have more buildings, whereas Mungula has more space and appears more sparse. Even in refugee settlements, there is an urban/rural demarcation. Although both were built around the same time, they have different “amenities,” if one is willing to call the presence of a medical care facility an amenity. I am quite certain the absence of one is a tragedy.

The United Nations tries to have some kind of parity and directs NGOs working with the camps to different places to provide for a level of equity, but it certainly is not easy. SSLCD works with these two camps principally because they were associated with the villages with which we were working before the civil war sent them fleeing to Uganda for refuge.

Our agenda was the same as the previous day, to mourn John, assure them that his death would not leave them forgotten and for me to lead trauma healing and peace building focused Bible study.  The importance of undergirding this with Scripture cannot be minimized. When they first arrived at both refugee settlements, the very first thing the women did was to build a church. When life seems hopeless, the reminder of a God who is with you always can make all the difference.

While in many ways the two communities were very similar, there were some distinct differences between this group and the group from Mungula. Most notably, many of the women came in doing the beadwork and embroidery work that is part of the cooperative supported by SSLCD. It was humbling and amazing to see the pride they took in their exquisite creations.

The other difference was the presence of people from a different tribal background. Most of the people with whom we work are Dinka, simply because people end up in a settlement based on when they arrive. The Dinka arrived when they were on the losing end of the civil war and fleeing. However, there are people from the Nuir and other tribes, who along with co-existing with the Ugandans, who do not greet the refugee settlements with open arms because it takes limited resources, makes the peace-building work so vital. Our work is intentional about not focusing on just one tribe but being open to all. As a result, I was very pleased to have a mixture of tribes in attendance.

One of the things I heard reiterated again and again as they shared during the Bible study, was the hope that John had brought them and their fear of being forgotten. When you have practically nothing, clinging to a lifeline can keep you from despair.

I was actually also very amused when it became very apparent that they remembered me from my last visit. This was made clear when one woman stood up and talked about how good it was to have me back and how there was much less of me this time than last time. At least that’s how Daniel translated it. Having lost almost 50 pounds since the last time I was here, I knew what she meant. But I had not expected them to remember that so vividly.

I was once again deeply moved and impressed by the depth of their sharing, the sincerity of their faith and the unbridled joy with which they worship. While I come here to give them tools to share to promote peace building and address the process of trauma healing, I know I am not the one doing the blessing but being blessed.

After we had finished, we had a chance to see a bit of the area around the church. It included a school that has been built since our last trip, where we met some of the teachers and students. The students sang a song for us, but unfortunately my phone overheated in the 103 degree-plus heat and I could not get as much as I had hoped of it on video.

One of the awe-inspiring but humbling parts of doing this work in the settlements is encountering the depth of the refugees. Today, in Olua, I was blown away by Chris, a young woman who  the only person to respond to any of the discussions in English. When we were talking about what allows you to connect with others and work toward building peace and relationships, she said “Pride, fear and anger create divides. Being able to say ‘Please, thank you and I’m sorry’ leads to building peace.” Her spirit shines forth from her with wisdom, beauty and grace. This is why we do the work we do through SSLCD.

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