“A Comboni Missionaries Apostolate for the poorest and most abandoned”
The Comboni Missionaries are working with the refugees and the host community focusing on empowerment through training in different fields. Their primary needs include spiritual formation and support, building peace, education, short-term livelihood development, and vocational preparation in all sectors. These activities of formation are geared towards a holistic growth (nourishment of body and soul).
South Sudan has been home to many civil and tribal wars since the independence of the country in 1956. Although South Sudan gained her independence in 2011, this did not stop such wars. The current one broke out just two years after independence in 2013, because of the rivalry of the opposing political forces in the country. Like the previous wars, this one too witnessed the influx of refugees into neighbouring countries in search of security and subsistence that was no longer guaranteed back home. One of those hosting countries is Uganda. Palorinya is one of these refugee centres populated mainly by people from the southern part of Southern Sudan in the areas around Kajo-Keji. It is located in Itula sub county, Obongi District in the region of West Nile. These people relocated to Uganda when their area became a battleground for the opposing forces.
In 1966, the Comboni Missionaries opened a community at Lomin in the Kajo-Kejiarea when a beautiful School was constructed benefitting hundreds of young people from near and far within the country. With the deterioration of the security situation, the missionaries were forced to close down everything and relocate to Uganda where most of their people had taken refuge. While in Uganda, the Comboni Missionaries continued to serve their people in the best way possible, besides catering for their spiritual needs, they created small projects that could enhance the economic transformation of the people notwithstanding the dare situation refugees face in such camps. One of these projects is the COMBONI St. MARTIN YOUTH APOSTOLATE. This project aims at creating an environment similar to the one they had back home, that could help the refugee youth population to enhance their spiritual and human promotion. Back home, they had projects in the areas of agriculture, weaving, sunflower oil milling, carpentry, bakery, art and design, and metal fabrication. Palorinya centre wants to replicate these activities among the refugees. Comboni St. Martin community endeavours to work with both refugees and the host community, building their capacity towards self-reliance with a resilient spirit.
The current civil war in South Sudan started in 2013. In 2017, war escalated in the areas of Kajo-Keji, forcing the population to flee to Uganda, settling in districts bordering with South Sudan. Our group of focus settled at Palorinya in Obongi District. As of October 2020, the official figure of registered refugees was 123,000 against the local population in the district, which is only 50,000. There are 30,449 registered refugee households, majority of which are handled by women, although men head most single-person households. About 250 children are registered as heads of households, although the actual number is higher since not everyone has been registered. The excesses in the alternate trend of food collectors for children during the distribution exercise points to this fact.
Palorinya Settlement is divided into five Administrative Zones, each with a registered population of between 15,000 and 36,000 refugees. The pastoral activities are also divided in different zones based on refugee population. According to the office of the Prime Minister (OPM) report, the main activities are focused on the refugees.
As mentioned earlier, the Comboni Missionaries followed their flock into the refugee settlements, relocating their operations and machinery to a new base of more than 30 acres of land. This ensured to a certain extent the continuity in services to the population that had fled their home country and homes. These services are extended to the host community. The missionaries built a centre close to the refugee settlement in order to continue their development activities and spiritual nourishment of their people. The land has been purchased with the support of “Church in Need,” and Sudan Relief Fund.
RESPONSE TO THE NEEDS OF THE REFUGEES
The Comboni Missionaries are working with the refugees and the host community focusing on empowerment through training in different fields. Their primary needs include spiritual formation and support, building peace, education, short-term livelihood development, and vocational preparation in all sectors. These activities of formation are geared towards a holistic growth (nourishment of body and soul). One of the crucial field in maintaining the stability and wellbeing of the refugees and the host community is the training to establish and maintain stable food security. This is done through farming and agro-processing, by providing skills and knowledge to farmers in the settlement, and training in agribusiness. These programs contribute immensely to trauma healing and psychosocial support in the aftermath of exposure to the war. In order to be able to carry out this activities efficiently, several donors have contributed generously to the cause, which has made the services of the Comboni Missionaries more effective. Organizations like Church in Need, Missio Aachen and “BBM MIVA Austria and the family of Fischnaller, to mention but a few, have contributed to the success of several projects.
ACTIVITIES OF THE MISSION
As mentioned earlier, the Comboni Missionaries are employing a holistic approach in their apostolate with the refugee community. Their overall project is multi-purpose in nature, with different innovative activities. These include training in the following:
Hand crafts, carpentry (these two provide both training and employment within the project itself), metal fabrication, gas welding, tailoring, and hairdressing. They also train people in agro-processing with sunflower and sesame oils processing, vegetable gardening and fruit tree planting. On top of that, they also do animal rearing with rabbits farming, chicken farming, ducks, Guinea pigs, geese, and fish farming. Dairy farming is also part of training with goats, sheep and cattle.
In the area of Palorinya, the Comboni Missionaries have become the principal economic actors in the area of farming. They have acquired a significant tract of land and this helps them supervise and provide the necessary needs ofrefugees. At their centre, each of their 5 sunflower oil-mills can process an average of 1.2 metric tons per day in 8 hours. In addition, the Comboni Missionaries maintain a rabbit farm with more than 200 female rabbits, and a piggery with 102 pigs with their piglets. The farm has 42 friesian cows and 4 local variety cows.
For these projects to be effectively carried out, the missionaries have set up structures for education, youth training, economic empowerment of women, food security through farming, business aagribusiness, economic and financial literacy and the facility has workshops for carpentry and metal works, a bakery, sunflower and sesame millers, milking machinery and cooling machines. The Comboni Missionaries have established a Multipurpose Skilling & Fabrication Facility on the boundary of Palorinya Settlement. The facility employs a work force that comprises 75% refugees and 25% host community members. This in line with the National development Plan of Uganda. . The collaboration with GIZ (Germany Society of International Cooperation), UNHCR (United High Commission for Refugees) and OPM (Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda, responsible for refugee affairs in the country) has made this project more successful in helping both refugees and host community.
From the pastoral point of view, the Comboni Missionaries are working in the diocese of Arua collaborating with the local clergy. The pastoral work of the Comboni Missionaries is carried out in refugee settlements. They preach the Good News to refugees, giving them hope, peace and reconciliation. During the pastoral activities, they care for the needy and most vulnerable, such as the sick, widows, and orphans. The spiritual centre is opened for refugees and the host community. Comboni Missionaries also care for the more resilient by providing training and jobs to develop the economic capacities of the area. The collaboration with GIZ and UNHCR and OPM has made this project more successful in helping refugees and the host community.
The Refugees in Palorinya Settlement need space and structures to create an inclusive sense of community by deliberating independently on pertinent issues (peaceful coexistence, gender roles, caring for the vulnerable, overcoming the dependency syndrome, etc.), engage stakeholders on the concerns and activities that are implemented in their midst for their benefit and conceptualize and develop projects.
The presence of the Missionaries in the midst of refugees provides them with a platform to engage community-based prevention activities, involving attitude change at grassroots level regarding human rights and rule of law, and promoting responsibility and accountability. They also help in the reflection and prevention of disputes from escalating into violence as it happened in July 2020. There are other pertinent issues like maltreatment of girls (early marriage, defilement, etc), child labour, domestic violence, corporal punishment, revenge, killings and other harmful traditional practices that are still widely accepted . The Missionaries moreover provide space for stakeholders to call initiation meetings and advertise opportunities such as skill-development, cash for work, etc.
The Missionaries have also set up a health centre to counter the many health challenges refugees face in their settlements. Being somehow crowded, the prevalence of diseases is much higher than when they were in their homes prior to war. Some of the diseases are a result of lack of clean water, cases of drug addiction, injuries accrued from domestic violence, and an increasing number of mental-related complications caused by war trauma, sexual violence, alcohol and drug addiction and other factors. The Comboni Missionaries work with different collaborators and partners to ensure the health of their refugee community. For the cases of trauma that are complicated and challenging, specialist facilitators in counselling conduct the process of treatment and healing. This is geared towards inner healing, trauma healing through sharing, listening, and praying together as one
people. Comboni Missionaries are offering the possibility for the refugees to be and do good to one other in their current predicament of life in exile. We work towards fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are calling our attention to ensuring good health for the people and their well-being (goal no.3) and working for Peace, justice and strong institutions (goal no. 16).
Children have also been within the framework of our development goals. There has been an effort to instil in them a passion for agriculture, nature and the environment, while building their capacity to care for themselves and each other, promoting in them both self-esteem and confidence.
The Comboni Missionaries community of Palorinya held its pilot project of a new Young Farmer Agricultural Boot Camp, children peace-building programs with the support from Kindermissionwerk. The program targets both children and youth aged between 15-17 years of age.
The focus of the agricultural boot camp project is to create an opportunity for young people to get away from the mundane and to try something new that will position them to be pioneers in the sphere of agriculture. Agriculture is another word for farming. It includes growing and harvesting crops, raising animals, or livestock. Agriculture provides food and many raw materials that humans need to survive. The growth and discipline in life are also key values for human development. However, with the current distractions caused by mobile phones, TV and video games, our children are losing out on a lot of things that life has to offer. Connecting with nature and the earth are both critical for physical, mental and emotional growth. A change of environment in the current context can make a huge difference in the life of a child or youth. Many need a change of pace and an opportunity to apply themselves to something different or new, to reverse the effects of the lock-down brought about by the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.
Children have the opportunity to engage in a variety of outdoor sports playing football, morning jogs, scavenger hunts and other exercises. They are waking up to a proper time table to start their daily activities. The centre provides them with an engaging environment.
It has time and moments focused on building their self-esteem and self-confidence. They incorporate leadership and human growth training in order to help each participant reflect on their lives and the future they envision for themselves.
IMPACT OF THE MISSION ON THE REFUGEES
The main objective of this community is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development with children and their parents for both the refugees and the host community. The new method used here is designed to bring peace by using children and their parents as the primary peace agents. The aim is to form children and youth, teachers, and parents (especially women) as the initial and primary peace-building agents. The project has made some positive impact on the children and their parents working in the centre. They are sharing, working and playing together without division or prejudice. Children are happy and this project has changed their way of living in the camps. We have discovered that children can be open about their house challenges without any reservation, even when it has to do with some unbecoming behaviour of their parents. Some of the negative impact is that few children did not have friends because of fear of their parents. Occasions like the “peace holiday” (which normally takes one week) help us discover that there are many lessons we can learn from children. The “Leadership Magazine” published an article on the project and the children activity in the community. This made a very great impact in the community in Uganda and outside. The implementation was successful among children in the IDPs and Refugee settlements with an optimal response from the children and their parents. The children can share meals together playing together without discrimination. The attitude of these children proves that fighting can stop in South Sudan with this new generation . Their slogan is that “we can help the leaders to create an environment of peace where the little ones can grow and enjoy peace and peaceful co-existence in South Sudan”.
The Palorinya Comboni Mission is one of the innovative communities in the Comboni family, implementing some priorities of our XVIII General Chapter. Refugee programs and especially those aimed at peace building are very important reminders for the Institute for the sustainability and growth of our missionary work among the poorest and the most abandoned populations. Little as it might seem, the Palorinya projects have been successful in benefitting and transforming both refugees and the local host community. It has transformed attitude towards the “other”. Different tribes are learning to co-exist with respect and mutual uplifting. The experiment, if taken seriously and supported, with its impact on a few thousand lives so far, will come to benefit millions of lives in the future. This should be the future of South Sudan, with a new generation with a renewed mentality with an all-embracing approach. For now, the project is well managed and is very much appreciated by both the beneficiaries and benefactors. However, constant furnishing with both funding and personnel, with people gifted with innovative ideas are necessary to take the project to a higher level whereby similar experiments are multiplied in other places. We need to tap-in the enthusiasm of young people who, if well guided, could become the springboard for future health developments. Experience has shown us that the children could be the drivers towards authentic peace building. They could be an indispensable tool towards the implementation and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 16, dedicated to “the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels”. Children tell us that it is possible to change the world, if we are united in our efforts.
Fr. Ayih Teko Fafa D. J.-C. Pierre