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    A new mother looks for hope in an uncertain future

    Posted
    8/29/18

    Mafi* holds her newborn daughter as she puts her hand gently on her little tummy. Shortly before fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo, four armed men raped Mafi and she became pregnant. On a hot and humid afternoon two days after giving birth, Mafi recounts her horrific story in front of the small tent of plastic sheeting that she now calls home in Uganda’s Kyangwali refugee settlement. Mafi is one of over 288,000 Congolese who has fled DRC to seek refuge in Uganda

    They followed me into the forest. I went to get fire wood when the four armed men suddenly attacked me. I screamed at the top of my lungs for help, but no one heard me, no one came. They pushed me to the ground and I immediately knew what their intention was. “Kill me,” I shouted to them, because I would have rather died than being raped by them. They did not listen to me. They took their turns, one after the other, until I fell unconscious from the pain.  

    I woke up in the hospital. The nurse told me that villagers found me in the woods, my body covered in blood, and brought me to the main street. Luckily, a police car drove by that moment and brought me to the hospital. The doctors were very nice and kept me there for a few weeks to recover. During the first few days, one of them told me that I was pregnant. My heart skipped a beat and I felt panic rush through my whole body. I remembered how I had lost three of my own children due to sickness, unable to provide for them. I knew I had to keep the baby.  

    I felt like I was only person in the world who had nobody. Armed men had killed my family members and burned our house when I was 5 years old. The pastor’s wife in our village took me in and raised me. I got married when I was 15 years old and decided to leave them, not wanting to be a burden anymore. But then rebels also killed my husband and after losing my children I found myself alone once again.  

    I had to run. As soon as I was released from the hospital, I realized that I had to flee in order to save my life and that of my unborn child. In my village, I saw how many families walked towards Lake Albert and I decided to join them. I only took the radio along with me from home because I knew I would need it to pay for the boat ride. It took me almost two weeks to get to Uganda. At one of the roadblocks, I met a former friend of my husband. He gave me some water and a little bit of money to survive the journey. About three months ago, I made it to Uganda. 

    I was helpless. Having left everything behind, I did not know how to raise my baby without any income and limited amount of assistance. But then I met Esther. She works with CARE and is an angel to me. She asked me questions, listened to my story and gave me hope again. She even took me to the hospital during my pregnancy and brought clothes for my baby after I gave birth to her. I never thought anyone could be so nice to me. There is no way for me to show her my appreciation. But I named my baby after her. Her name is Esther.  

    My child is innocent. She is not responsible for the sins of her father. My biggest wish is to be able to provide for her. Although life is better here in Uganda, I still do not know what the future will hold for us. But now, at least I have faith.  

    *Name has been changed 

     

    “My child is innocent. She is not responsible for the sins of her father,” says Mafi of her new baby Esther. Photo credit: Jennifer Bose/CARE

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    The Brutal Reality of Sexual Violence Survivors in Refugee Settlements in Uganda

    Posted
    10/9/18

    Jane* fled South Sudan for Uganda with her three sisters last year. Armed forces threatened her family and Jane’s parents sent their children away knowing their lives were in danger. It took them five days to reach Uganda’s Imvepi refugee settlement. A few days later, Jane, 17, found out her parents had been killed.

    “I miss my parents but I’m glad we left the people with the guns behind,” she says. 

    At Imvepi, however, she still is not safe. Her family was connected to government forces in South Sudan, which poses a threat to her and her sisters’ lives. Shortly after their arrival at Imvepi, Jane and her sisters were attacked in the middle of the night in the refugee settlement by a group of about 15 men.

    “They shouted that they wanted to kill us and that this would be the last time for us to see the light,” Jane says. “And then they touched us… .”

    It was the third time they’d been attacked since arriving. They received little empathy when they told others in the camp about the incident. 

    “They told us we should have just let them kill us,” she says.

    South Sudan declared independence in 2011. Seven years later, the country is ravaged by fighting, severe hunger, mass displacement, and accusations of war crimes by government and opposition forces. Nearly 4 million people have been forced to flee because of the conflict.

    Imvepi currently hosts more than 100,000 refugees, almost three times the number of locals in the area. Of the 1.3 million refugees in Uganda, over 1 million are South Sudanese and over 85 percent are women and children in real danger of sexual and physical violence, with many reporting incidents of violence on their brutal journey.

    Upon arrival in the refugee settlements in Uganda, underage children are immediately located and matched with a foster family within two to three days. But many of them decide to leave and fall back under the risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Too often they end up trading sex for money – earning as little as 2,000 Ugandan Shillings (1 USD) per exchange. CARE holds awareness-raising sessions on sexual and reproductive health with unaccompanied minors to highlight the risks and prevent threats of sexual violence.

    “We cannot provide survivors of sexual and gender-based violence with support to heal from their trauma, but at the same time be unable to meet their basic needs, forcing them into selling their bodies for survival,” says Delphine Pinault, CARE Uganda’s Country Director.

    Jane’s life has changed dramatically since leaving home. As the eldest, she has to take care of her younger sisters. Food usually runs out before they receive their next ration. Every day, she wakes up to pray, prepares breakfast for her sisters and goes to Imvepi’s reception center to help out other refugees fleeing South Sudan. She has not gone back to school. Her trauma and fear of being attacked on the way to school is too great. Eventually, she wants to become an accountant or teacher and move closer to a city to feel safer.

    CARE has built a shelter for Jane and her sisters close to the settlement’s police station to help protect her from further attacks. The shelter and the girls’ caretaker, Albert, help Jane and her sisters feel safer. It gives her hope for a better life.

    “Only if peace in South Sudan lasts for more than 10 years, I would trust my country to be safe enough to move back,” Jane says. 
    *name has been changed 


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    South Sudan declared independence in 2011. Seven years later, the country is ravaged by fighting, severe hunger, mass displacement, and accusations of war crimes by government and opposition forces. Nearly 4 million people have been forced to flee because of the conflict. Photo credit: Jennifer Bose/CARE

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    South Sudan to Uganda: Three girls in search of survival and school

    Posted
    10/9/18

    In the heat of the day, Lillian, Scobia and Viola help each other carry large, heavy pieces of wood from a collection point to the temporary shelter they are trying to make into a home at Imvepi refugee settlement in Uganda. They’ve been sharing a latrine with neighbors with no place to shower, so today, they are building their own bathroom on their land. The girls, now 17 years old, are from the same village in South Sudan. Most of the fledgling nation is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis fueled by years of chronic underdevelopment, conflict and natural disasters. The three girls fled to Uganda last year with Viola’s eight-year-old brother, but no adult guardian. 

    Viola and her brother were raised by their uncle until he was killed by soldiers on his way home one day. They survived for a few months off of the vegetables in their garden. When they ran out of food, they moved in with Scobia and her grandmother, who were neighbors. Lillian was living with her older sister, after their parents had died. But when her sister got married, she left with her husband, leaving Lillian alone. She also moved in with Scobia.

    As the violence in South Sudan worsened, their school stopped operating and the girls became increasingly worried about their safety. 

    “I was afraid that if I stayed in South Sudan, we would get killed just like my uncle,” Viola says. “I wanted to come to Uganda to be safe and get an education, so I can one day get a job and continue taking care of my brother.”

    Scobia’s grandmother helped the girls pack food and their belongings, and they set off for Uganda on foot. During the journey, they rationed their supplies, not knowing how long they’d need the food to last. They arrived in Uganda after walking for seven days.

    “Young girls like these arriving in Uganda alone and fending for themselves are at major risk of violent attacks. They often times arrive already traumatized from violent events that may have occurred on their journey,” says Delphine Pinault, Country Director for CARE Uganda. “With most of the refugees coming from a culture of violence and conflict, it is critical that we work with the entire community, including men and boys, on adopting more caring and supportive behaviors and on resolving conflicts and differences through dialogue rather than the fist.”

    Out of the 1.35 million refugees in Uganda, over 700,000 are children under 18, according to UNHCR. Many of those children arrive in Uganda without a parent or guardian. Sometimes a child finds a guardian on the journey to Uganda, or once they arrive in Uganda. Other times a child finds a group of other children and they become each other’s guardians. This is the case with Lillian, Scobia and Viola. These girls have become each other’s family.

    “We do everything together. We collect firewood, fetch water and cook together. We also comfort each other when we are sad or remembering what we have lost in South Sudan. We are sisters,” Viola says. 

    They need clothes, and more food, and are aware of how important their education is to a positive future. 

    "I have to take care of my eight-year-old brother. I want a good education so I can provide for him. One day I hope to become a nurse so I can help my community," Viola says.

    “School will help me overcome the challenges I am facing,” Lillian says. “If I have an education, I can get a good job and those challenges will disappear.”

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    Lilian, Viola and Scobia’s shared struggle has led to a genuine sisterhood.   CARE/Peter Caton

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    How menstrual cups are helping build confidence among refugee girls in Uganda

    Posted
    10/9/18

    Two bedsheets and two sets of clothes. That’s all 20-year-old Viola Jackline was able to take with her on her arduous two-week trek by foot from South Sudan to Uganda. Violence in South Sudan drove Viola, her three siblings and their grandmother from their home. They witnessed killings and escaped gunshots. They faced, thirst, hunger, and sexual harassment from armed men before reaching the Ugandan border.  

    The bed sheets allowed Viola and her family to sleep in the bush in a dark, camouflaged area. Her grandmother carried two saucepans to cook what little food they had along the way. Now they are trying to build a life in Uganda’s Imvepi refugee settlement, along with more than 100,000 other South Sudanese. 

    Among the many challenges faced by girls and women like Viola fleeing crises is access to the education and resources to manage their periods. Like other women and girls in the settlement, it was difficult for Viola to find money to buy pads. At times, she’s been forced to sell her food ration in order to buy a piece of cloth and a robe, which is torn and fitted to hold the cloth and then fastened around her waist. It’s a bulky and uncomfortable way for Viola and others to manage their menstrual cycles, but it’s often their only option.

    Periods can make school stressful for female students who are uncomfortable and may not have all the information they need to know what’s going on with their bodies. Boys often tease girls when their uniforms show an outline of a pad or staining and go through their bags looking for menstrual supplies in order to make fun of them. The bullying caused Viola to have low self-esteem, disrupted her focus and isolated her from her schoolmates. One of Viola’s friends, Jenet, dropped out of school after being bullied about a stain on her uniform. 

    Last spring, Viola participated in a menstrual cup pilot at the settlement along with 100 other women and girls. The pilot, supported by European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), CARE, Oxfam, CERFORD and WoMena, trained the group on menstrual hygiene and the use of Ruby Cups, a healthier, more sustainable, and eco-friendly alternative to pads and tampons. Ruby cups are made from 100-percent soft, medical-grade silicone and are reusable for up to 10 years.

    Learning to use the cup was more difficult than she anticipated, and Viola nearly gave up. But with the encouragement of her friends in the program, she stuck with it. She says the cup is much more comfortable than other methods, and because it’s reusable, she won’t have to look for money to buy cloth or pads.

    While Viola was confident in using the Ruby Cup, family and neighbors had their doubts. Misperceptions in the community about the cup being a form of birth control or impacting a user’s virginity, among other beliefs, presented a challenge. Men play an important role in decision-making and help shape local perceptions. CARE worked to educate and train a select group of men, known locally as Role Model Men, about menstruation and how to support their wives, sisters, and daughters. Viola had several Role Model Men in her community who helped her family understand the importance of supporting Viola during her cycle and using the Ruby Cup.

    Since she started using a menstrual cup, Viola’s noticed a change in her self-esteem and confidence. She now plays football, participates in youth meetings, and can walk long distances and attend class during her period without having to worry. 

    “I am comfortable and I have confidence,” she says.

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    Far From Home: The 13 Worst Refugee Crises for Girls

     

    By
    Sophie Akongo

    Violence in South Sudan drove Viola, her three siblings and their grandmother from their home. Photo credit: Peter Caton/CARE

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