, 18 December, 2020 / 4:10 PM
Members of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) in Uganda have facilitated food aid to hundreds of refugees at Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp located in the country’s Gulu Archdiocese.
Realized through a partnership with Salesian Missions, the U.S.-based development arm of SDB, the food aid has benefitted some 800 people based at the camp.
Set up in April 2016, Palabek refugee settlement was established to reduce congestion in other refugee camps in Uganda.
The camp is home to at least 56,000 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from South Sudan, members of SDB have reported.
“Several agencies are involved in providing food and education within Palabek. While some have left because of the pandemic, Salesians have remained,” officials of Salesian Missions say in a report shared with ACI Africa Wednesday, December 16.
They add, “Even before COVID-19, living conditions in Palabek were not easy. Food distribution was scarce and there were difficulties in accessing drinking water. With the arrival of the pandemic, everything has become even more complicated.”
Due to COVID-19, food rations given to the refugees at the four-year-old camp on a monthly basis have been reduced by 30 percent, the leadership of the New York-based Salesian agency says in the report, adding that classes and other educational activities were suspended, and episodes of violence, alcoholism, and teenage pregnancies began.
“With Salesian Missions support we have been able to make around 800 bags with food in the month of November,” Fr Ubaldino Andrade, a Salesian Cleric ministering at Palabek has been quoted as saying in the December 16 report.
The Salesian native of Caracas in Venezuela adds, “We will be able to provide almost the same quantity for Christians in the camp in addition to providing blankets, buckets, cooking oil and soap.”
For Fr. Ubaldino, the food donation “is greatly appreciated because there is hunger and malnutrition and other nutritional deficiencies among the refugees,” which create “much frustration, anger and other social disturbances.”
“Salesians have distributed many tons of food and clothing, especially to the poorest. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have also been supported with seeds and agricultural tools,” the Salesian Cleric further says.
SDB members at Palabek refugee camp are also countering the food shortage through cultivation of cereals, vegetables, and some cash crops such as sim sim, groundnuts and sunflower, Salesian Missions officials say in the report shared with ACI Africa.
The farming initiative involves the promotion of kitchen gardens for vegetables and fruits, hiring of land from the local Ugandans, and creating agreements to work together with the host community, they further say.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, SDB members at the camp had earlier highlighted some of the challenges they were experiencing as they strive to keep the refugees safe, including failure to adhere to COVID-19 precautionary measures on the part of the refugees, food shortage and poor health services.
With COVID-19 lockdown redundancy causing psychological stress especially among the young people, the Salesians reached out to vulnerable youths and engaged them in constructive activities such as agriculture, making of masks, and construction work among others, Fr. Lazar Arasu, the Director of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services told ACI Africa in July.
In the December 16 report shared with ACI Africa, officials of Salesian Missions say the COVID-19 impact notwithstanding, SDB members at Palabek settlement are “offering much needed psychosocial support and pastoral care for thousands of Christian residents.”
They are also offering educational services through their four nursery schools that educate more than 1,000 children and through various Salesian primary and secondary schools that serve an estimated 700 refugee children, the report indicates.
“Salesian missionaries also launched a vocational training center to offer life skills and other training to help young refugees prepare for employment,” officials Salesian Missions have reported.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa