Refugee Youth Proclaim Peace
Every morning, the stories of last night swirl in Bidi Bidi, the world’s largest refugee settlement. There is no radio nor newspaper here, but news filters through from person to person. Reports usually go like: someone was robbed here, a fight broke out there, a stabbing, a rape – isolated incidents that are based on historical wrongs.
“It’s all misunderstandings, when people don’t understand each other or have a disagreement, they just fight,” says 16-year-old Simon.
“We have lost a lot of our people, a lot of our parents. Some of us young girls were raped on the way, some of us were killed,” recalls Florence, 18.
Simon and Florence explain that a lot of people carry grudges based on what they experienced before fleeing South Sudan, experiences that were traumatic and hard to move beyond.
Florence was at school when her village was attacked. She quickly found her two brothers, one older and the other younger, and ran for two weeks.
“We left our parents there, I’ve lost my father, only my mom is alive,” she says.
“In 2016, the confusion and insecurity started in South Sudan for us. That’s why we’re now here in Uganda,” Simon says. “They were attacking people at will, if they got you on the way, they would just attack you.” He also walked for a week from South Sudan’s violence with his mother and two brothers.
Both Florence and Simon arrived in Bidi Bidi – home to more than 280,000 refugees more than a year ago.
“When we came, there were many challenges. On the day we arrived, there were no houses, no good place for sleeping, no food… many, many challenges,” Florence says.
After Florence and her brothers were officially registered as refugees, they were given a small piece of land to build a hut. She enrolled in secondary school and is currently entering Grade 11.
Simon and his family too were given a small piece of land to construct shelter. He is currently in Grade 9.
While they are glad to be living and going to school in a country where peace prevails and World Vision regularly distributes food assistance, they continue to experience challenges.
“Here, many things need money. This is not like South Sudan where you can dig and grow something. This is not our land,” Simon explains. He adds that the lack of reliable access to water and firewood for cooking also presents refugees with challenges.
Concerning the violence in South Sudan, Simon says, “If people don’t know what is good or bad, there is just tribalism.” He and Florence are among many young people in the settlement who are tackling tensions that sparks violence.
World Vision helps with the formation of peace clubs, trains members and provides materials for children to organise activities to spread peace messages among refugee and surrounding host communities. “I can see now my life is better because of the peace club,” says Simon.
Once a week, groups varying in size from 15-50 gather and go through a peace curriculum developed by World Vision. These sessions help members learn how to create more harmonious communities, resolve conflicts without violence and foster a culture of peace. More than 1,300 young people have taken part in the last year.
“We have many activities, like drama that helps us bring common understanding and bring our emotions closer to our minds. We have to forgive the things that have happened in the past,” states Florence.
“It’s important for the community to know what peace is and stop fighting,” highlights Simon. Every month, the peace clubs conduct outreach events in the community during which members teach parents, other youth and community members about the dangers of tribalism, how to avoid fighting, create a more cohesive community and resolve conflicts peacefully – basically “all the lessons we learned at the peace club”, according to Simon.