COVID-19: The Story of Women Refugees in Uganda

Featured Images: Matilde Simas

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COVID-19 has altered our lives forever. Many of us have not seen our loved ones and we aren’t able to go to our favourite places or eat our favourite take out. What we know as normal has been stripped from us.

Now imagine this: there is no virus, but you live in a war-stricken country, you flee to save yourself and your child and you are able to find refuge in a peaceful settlement in Uganda, only for your life to be altered again and danger to present itself to you in a different form.

It’s virtually impossible to understand a situation like that unless you’ve experienced it yourself. This comparison of how the virus would impact a privileged person’s life to a refugee’s life is not to say that being upset regardless of your circumstance isn’t valid, because it is valid. The comparison is also not to make you feel more grateful for what you have (pro tip: do not use other people’s suffering to make yourself feel better about your situation). Instead, this article is for you to gain insight and be inspired to help people and make a change.

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A twenty-year-old woman named Nadia lives in the Imvepi settlement and built her house there along with the support of the UNHCR. She said that she found the settlement to be peaceful but the cuts in the food rations are most concerning. Collecting water has also been a challenge because of the shortage; it may take up to four days to receive water and when water is available, she must walk two kilometres, which she is only able to do during the day because she fears that going out at night is dangerous for any woman.

As we all can imagine, water is essential for almost all household activities, cooking, drinking, and cleaning. It is vital now more than ever that hygiene is practiced but without water, it simply isn’t possible.

Nadia also speaks of the dangers when collecting firewood. She never travels alone to collect wood as she fears getting raped — a common problem that all women have in the settlement. Men use firewood to manipulate women to have sex with them in exchange for the wood. Firewood is an essential part of survival, but the land is scarce, leading to people having to compete for the wood.

Refugees have insufficient access to food, water, and firewood. For men to abuse this lack of resources to rape and abuse women is simply evil. Every woman around the world would be able to understand the horror of having to plan your day around avoiding rape. I can’t imagine what adding no water and not enough food to that list would do to a woman’s mental and physical health.

 

Nadia poses for her photograph as seen above

 

Tonia is a nineteen-year-old with two children. The father of the children is a rebel soldier in Sudan. She was able to escape Sudan, but it was a struggle which she faced feeling fearful along with hungry children. The World Food Organisation provides food and Tonia sells her portion so she can one day buy linen and a bed — this results in her starving herself. She also feels lonely and struggles to sleep. ChildVoice, a non-profit organisation that provides support to refugees, assists Tonia by providing psychological counselling and she says that having someone to give her emotional support nourishes her soul.

The settlement provides education for her children, but Tonia does not know how she will pay for the service. She wishes she was able to go to school too but she says she must forget her ambitions because she has to focus on her children’s success.

Tonia also is affected by the shortage of food, water, and firewood. She also does not feel safe as a woman and fears rape. She says that their culture dictates that if a woman is raped, she must then marry that man because they have had “sex” — which causes extreme trauma for the victim.

 

Tonia is seen above posing for a photograph

 

Gladys is a twenty-year-old woman who has been living at the settlement for three years. When she was sixteen, her parents arranged for her to be married to a thirty-year-old man who had promised to look after her and pay her school fees as her parents were too poor to do so. Gladys’s husband did not fulfill his promises and now Gladys resides in the Imvepi settlement running her restaurant. ChildVoice provided an education for Gladys, who is now skilled in catering and sweater weaving. Her goal now is to earn enough money so she can educate her children and create a better future for them. Due to COVID-19, there are no customers, which leaves her with no way of supporting her family.

 

Pictured above is Gladys posing for a picture

 

Sabrina is a twenty-year-old mother of two. She travelled from South Sudan to Uganda; it took her two weeks to reach the border then another one and a half months to reach the settlement. She has to walk up to three kilometres to get water or firewood; this is an unsafe journey and alongside that, she fears the men she may meet along the way will harm her. She feels security is needed during both the day and night. Regardless of the good lighting in the settlement, men continue to confidently harm women. Due to Sabrina’s experiences, the settlement hospital prescribes her medication for anxiety and trauma, but she has a difficult time trying to get this medication. ChildVoice provides psychological social care but Sabrina says that she still experiences pain when she thinks back to her past. ChildVoice also runs a soap making empowerment workshop that Sabrina attends and she now aspires to one day have her own business that sells her home goods.

 

Sabrina poses for a picture as seen above

 

These are the experiences of real women who only want to improve their future.

COVID-19 is an issue no one can beat alone and the refugees in the Imvepi settlement need resources. They need access to water and a good portion of food, they need firewood and they need to be able to travel safely.

I know how difficult it can be to want to change the world and not knowing how to do so. I always thought I would be able to help one day when I’m rich, but from what’s been happening in the world it seems when you become rich, you forget what truly matters, and that is to help people. It is important that all of us seek a life without ignorance and live with a burning desire to help others.

There are millions of people around the world who need our support and conversation. This article was written with the intention of it being an instigator for the people out there who read this and know they have a higher purpose to make the world better, and truth be told, I believe that is the purpose of us all. Do not feel guilty for the life of privilege you might have been born into, instead use that privilege to help others. If you are lucky enough to have some disposable income, please feel free to donate to ChildVoice. If you are not that lucky, keep the conversation going — who knows who else you might inspire to help the world become a better place?

ChildVoice raises funds for the women in the settlement — feel free to donate and learn more about them HERE.

Stay safe and do good.

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