A peek at daily life in northern Uganda’s refugee camps | St. Louis Public Radio

A peek at daily life in northern Uganda’s refugee camps

Sep 28, 2016

Updated 3 p.m., Sept. 28 with Durrie Bouscaren's interview on St. Louis on the Air from Uganda.

Heavy fighting in South Sudan has pushed about 150,000 refugees across the border into Uganda over the past two months. In July, the World Food Programme cut food rations in half for residents of settlement camps who have been in the country for more than a year. 

The toll of the conflict is clear in refugee camps in the Adjumani District, near Uganda's northern border.

Editor's note: Durrie Bouscaren is on a fellowship in Uganda, where she is reporting on agriculture. In this report, she shares some of her reflections on what she is observing and learning.

Cases of malnutrition are severe. When people see a reporter in a crowd they gather close, gesturing to their stomachs and pulling their skin to show how loose it has become.

A woman sits with bags of food rations on a distribution day at Ayilo refugee camp in northern Uganda.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

But through the hunger and the trauma, you can also see signs of resilience.  

Uganda's approach to refugees is somewhat unique; people are allowed to move freely, set up businesses and live outside of designated camps.

A boy wheels a homemade truck through the streets of Pagirinya refugee camp.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

There are several rural “settlements” in the Adjumani district, where families are given a small plot of land to build temporary homes. Though some manage to carve out space to plant gardens that supplement their diet, a major concern among refugees is the lack of available land to farm.

Sweet potatoes grow in a family's garden in the Pagirinya camp.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In each settlement, vendors set up a marketplace to sell their wares: fresh vegetables, dried fish, even a solar-powered cell phone charging station. Some entrepreneurs are refugees. Others are Ugandans who arrive at the camp from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Vendors sell vegetables, grains and dried fish at the Ayilo camp on a food-distribution day.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

There are also medical clinics, where the wait is long and--at least for some--electricity is nonexistent. For more complicated medical issues, people must go to a hospital in the town of Adjumani, where they’ll have to pay for care.

Children wait for a Medical Team International doctor to look over their records at Pagirinya camp.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

As journalists, we meet people, we hear about their suffering, and then we have to leave. We can publish a story and hope that things change for the better, but often it doesn’t. After one interview in Pagarinya, a man asked me what I could do for him.

“Honestly,” I said, “All I can do is try to put this on the radio.“

Driving back to Gulu, that’s a tough fact to sit with.

St. Louis Public Radio health reporter Durrie Bouscaren is visiting Uganda for a fellowship with the International Women’s Media Foundation. Her reporting will focus on Uganda's debate over genetically modified crops, as well as projects that were initially developed in St. Louis for use in East Africa.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB