Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Pied Piper of Refugee Children

Hello from Uganda! 

The beautiful mountains of Uganda, close to Rwandan boarder

I've been here a week with the whole group, with another week of mad adventuring to go before returning to Kigali. I will post about some of the awesome touristy things we have done soon. But on our first day in Uganda we went to visit Nakivale Refugee Settlement, a sprawling home of 70,00, more of a rural town than a camp. We drove through drizzling skys and rutted, muddy roads which pitched our bus at startling angles to the town, between rows of vegetable stalls and huts of scrap wood and UN-provided tarps.  

We got to meet with Rwandan refugees, and hear for the first time the voices in the shadows of the current regime. We heard of midnight disappearances, short jail sentences from which husbands and brothers never return, wives and children that had been killed in revenge for the genocide. It is the darkness of the sparkling story of resurrection we hear over and over, the sacrifices this government claims for the sake of stability, which the refugees claim is for the sake of power only. The truth is a shifty thing. I am convinced everything I have heard in this country has some truth to it, but many lies as well. Do I live in a democracy or dictatorship? Yes and yes. Is Rwanda a miracle of development or a festering of old hatreds? Yes and yes. But I begin to see the connections and what I think may be the turth behind the state. It is far cleverer than I could have ever guessed without living here. Nothing is simple. Nothing is only what it looks on the surface.

After the unsettling talk we wandered the camp with a Rwandan guide. At least, that is how it began but quickly my guides became the hoards of children who followed giggling and calling 'Muzunguu!” A brave little girl with six fingers in a torn purple velvet dress held my hand for an hour. She was quickly joined by at least a dozen children who held onto my fingers and wrists and elbows, and we moved like a massive shambling beast giggling madly whenever we looked at each other. 

This camp affirmed so much for me. In a town of 70,000 who had all suffered immensely there was not a single psychologist or program for addressing trauma. I want more than anything to work on trauma healing with refugees, and this day confirmed this completely. If I could move there tomorrow I would – though I will have to wait years until I've gathered enough skills to be genuinely useful. Now more than ever I know the path my life should take. 
The super amazing kids at the camp. The girl to my right reaching for the camera was my best friend for the day. 

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