“I’ve been running throughout my life. I’m now too old. I can’t run anymore. My only wish for my country is peace. I would love to be buried at my home back in South Sudan. But that can only happen if there is total peace to allow us to go back.”
That sums up the life and wishes of Cizarina Kade, a 70-year-old refugee from South Sudan living in Maaji II Refugee Settlement in Adjumani district, West Nile, Uganda.
It’s noon and Cizarina, a mother of five who, as a baby, lost an arm in an accident, is seated on the floor in front of her one-bedroom house built with the support of World Vision for most vulnerable families like hers. A look around and you realise houses like this with a corrugated iron roof are a rarity—only two others are within sight.
On the left side of her house stands a huge tree—a home to weaverbirds. The yellow feathered birds with shades of black freely make harmonic calls as they expertly dangle from exquisite and elaborate nests woven around the ends of one or two branches in a tree. They rival any human engineering.
“That’s how life is supposed to be,” says Cizarina. “You see those tiny birds on the tree are making a lot of noise but they will never fight. They will never demolish each other’s home [nests] over a disagreement. That’s the discipline we ought to have as people. Even if we differ in opinion, these tiny birds teach us to co-exist and be tolerant. That is a lesson all conflicting parties at home have failed to learn.”
As she waddles up the steps with so much effort, it is evident that old age has taken its toll on her frail body. She holds her back and then pushes herself up, a step at a time. She gasps for breath as she coos in speech, her wrinkle-contoured face creased by pain and frustration.
It’s the third time she has sought refuge in Uganda. The first time was during the first Sudan civil war. “I was a little girl”, says Cizarina with tears filling her eyes. “We ran with my parents and stayed in Atiak in Gulu district (now Amuru district)."
The second time was during the second Sudanese civil war. Cizarina was now married with two children aged two and three years. She was seven months pregnant at the time, expecting her third child. It was not an easy journey. By the time they reached Alele in Uganda, it was already dark. Heavily pregnant, traumatised, and now responsible for her children, as her husband had stayed behind, Cizarina’s life as a refugee in Uganda was fraught with challenges. “It’s an experience I would rather not talk about”, she says as shakes her head, facing the ground. “I don’t even wish it for my worst enemy.” Her husband joined her six months later.
The third time was in 2015 when the war reached her village again. Cizarina escaped, along with two children and two grandchildren who belong to her daughter. This time, Cizarina’s husband and three of her son were not lucky. She doesn't know whether they are alive or dead. She has never heard any news about them since. “I recall we were stopped by the security officers at the South Sudan border. They refused to let us cross over at first.”
But the stakes were too high for Cizarina and eventually, she managed to cross after bribing the border security. “I came bare-handed”, she says. “I got a plot of land, but I couldn’t construct a house by myself because I was sick and weak. I couldn’t send my grandchildren to school. Imagine someone who used to work on her farm, now depending on handouts.”
Cizarina is among more than 215,000 South Sudanese refugees living in Adjumani district in Uganda. Most of them don’t know if and when they would go back to their home country. In these situations of protracted crises, needs are complex and long-term. Along with immediate assistance, they need long-term support, including therapy to cope with trauma and opportunities to earn a living.
Through the Mountain Blue Farms-funded West Nile Livelihoods Project, World Vision is training refugees how to farm more efficiently and connecting them to markets for their harvests. The programme also offers entrepreneurship and leadership training to refugees so that they can start living dignified lives.
The entrepreneurship group became a lifeline for Cizarina. The members meet every week to share their stories, progress, and new ideas on how to improve their lives. For example, Cizarina’s Asante Group was supported to acquire a mill. Part of the profit made was used to help enrol children of group members.
“I used to have a lot of worries because of what I have been through”, she says. “But when World Vision came into our lives, I cried tears of joy. I realised there are still good people with beautiful hearts out there. Thanks to your gift, I have hope and feel encouraged to live on.”
For years, women refugees in Maaji II Settlement were responsible for finding a mill to grind grain into flour. The daily chore was time-consuming and difficult. Thanks to the gift of the grinding mill, women like Cizarina no longer have to hike for miles to the nearest mill to grind their grain. From the reception centre, they can walk a few steps to the mill located a stone’s throw away.
Harriet Ansoa, 20, a member of Asante Group, says entrepreneurship groups are also helping to diffuse tensions between family members and reduce the risk of domestic violence. “Whenever I have domestic problems, I share with my group”, she says. “One day, my husband beat me up and burnt all my clothes. I talked to my group members for advice. They visited my home and counselled both of us about the benefits of ending violence in our home.” Harriet and her husband are living peacefully now, and have also learned anger management skills.
Abraham Agoleruku, 29, is the chairperson of Asante Group. He says that as a group they are committed to promoting and practicing love. “We are united and work together. For example, the food ration we get is not enough, but no member has to sleep on an empty stomach. Fellow members share their food. If it is about buying medicine or books for children, we collect some money from each member and contribute.”
With almost UGX2.9 million (USD 800) saved, the group now plans to purchase more mills and set up a series of new businesses to generate more income. “When we got here we were only getting food rations”, says Abraham. “As refugees, we succeed not because things are easy for us, but because of resilience and the grace of God, and friends like World Vision. We push through the darkness and we sail against storms. We persist even when ignored. With this mill, our life circumstances have changed. We are more than conquerors through Christ. Our new lifestyle is now like that of nationals.”
Cizarina shares the same perspective as Abraham. “Today our faces are shining”, she says with a beaming smile for the first time. “There’s a lot of change in our lives. What we have been through cannot disappear at once. It’s a process.”
As Cizarina instructs Rose, her granddaughter, to take their goats received from World Vision to the nearby bushes, we ask her thoughts on what could be done to end the long-running crises back home. “Disagreeing isn’t a personal attack”, she says after a long pause. “It’s not. We need to be able to have serious discussions without blowing up ourselves. It’s possible. These conversations are crucial and they are hard but we need to have them anyways and learn how to co-exist, like these small birds.”
Photos: Brian Jakisa Mungu - MEAL Assistant, World Vision, Uganda
Story: Fred Ouma - Development Communications Coordinator, World Vision, Uganda