By James Chanwat in Palabek, Lamwo District.
Palabek Refugee Settlement is located in Northern Uganda bordering south Sudan. The largest number of refugees here originate from South Sudan
The settlement established on eight zones, has 67 blocks and its home to over 46,000 refugees including hundreds of child headed families.
Our reporter James Chanwat spent time in Palabek and now brings the tale of refugee child headed families as Ugandan Government Impose lockdown.
Santino arrives in Uganda
Mr. Santino Lounoi, 18, came to Uganda in 2019 with his 8 year old younger brother. The two were registered in Palabek refugee settlement. Santino recalls arriving in Uganda when he and his brother were very sick and were immediately rushed to Kitgum hospital for treatment by official from Child Protection Unit, CPU. He was admitted with sever malaria.
When his condition improved, they were brought back to the settlement and taken to Child Protection Units where he stayed until early this year when Child Protection constructed for them a two roomed house where they currently live.
Santino is a Primary Five pupil. He studies in a refugee school within the settlement and they are not required to pay fees. He mainly pays examination fees of Shs 2500/= (about USD 0.71). Even then, he still struggles to get the money.
“I usually sell some parts of the food ration given to us by UNHCR so that I can pay for my examinations,” said Santino.
He added that he has about two kilograms of beans left in the house before he receives another ration in two to three weeks’ time.
Santino adopts another single child headed
The pain and suffering Santino went through as a young refugee child heading a family has turned him in to a humanitarian person.
During the lockdown, Santino shocked refugees at Palabek when he decided to adopt another child whose situation he said was so pathetic than his.
“Having passed through a lot of suffering in the past, I decided to adopt Anok Beher who was battling with life during raining seasons because the house constructed for her was leaking and always her things are washed by rain. Since the house child protection constructed for us has two rooms, I decided to bring her in so that we can share and she sleeps peacefully,” Santino says.
Rooting peace and reconiliation to end pain and suffering
Both Santino and Anok are from two warring ethnicity tribes from south Sudan. The refugees describe the unity among the two children as co-existing and reconciliation which they say is a great move to bringing peace, reconciliation and unity in the settlement and also in south Sudan.
Ms. Anok Beher, now 18 years old, has been living alone since her arrival to Uganda in 2018. The house humanitarian agencies constructed for her has damages.
“Whenever it rains, my house floods and one day I shared a room with a snake and this made me to run away that particular night. That was when Santino took me in and we are now living together as one family although we are from different tribes and being child headed families make us more united and we live like siblings,”Ms Anok explains.
Anok said that during Covid-19 lock down, she got facemask at the time when she was at the child protection center.
Having been registered alone, Anok is considered as family size one, the food normally given to her is too small to finish one month.
The leader of Zone one, block 3 Mr. Abdel Mark, said the situation of child headed families in Palabek is alarming, “they are really suffering and they don’t have any source of income.”
He confirms Anoks appalling situation saying the young girl has been living in a very poor state until fellow child headed family took her in.
Mr. Oyet Martin who is the leader of zone one told Refugee and Migration Media Network that before the lockdown, child headed families used to spend most of their time at school and they only cook once a day but the lockdown has seen them at home, saying, there is need for them to cook twice a day which is too expensive. The food ration is too small to make them have two decent meals a day.
Mr.Ochan Robert, the camp leader for Palabek says during the lockdown a number of humanitarian organizations and partners realigned their work and most of their resources were redirected to hand washing facilities, sensitization, purchase of personal protective equipment (PPEs) “Some of the child headed families went for casual work in the host communities and they could be paid in kind with food stuffs” to help them survive.
The lockdown came at a time when World Food Program (WFP) was reducing food rations from 100% to about 70% which is an equivalent of reducing the maize grain from 12kgs to 7kgs “so you can imagine 7kgs for maize to be eaten for one month yet we are talking about children in this case,” Mr OChan wonders.
When the lockdown was gradually lifted, the children returned to working for people in the host communities to get food to supplement on what relief aid agencies provide.