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Uganda: Salesian missionaries provide seeds and farming support at Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp to help mitigate food shortage

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(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries and refugees at the Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp in Uganda are facing food shortages as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In April, refugees in the camp received 70 percent of their regular food ration. Because of the pandemic, there has been a lack of funding from international bodies and the food rations will be reduced further. Children will be further pushed into malnutrition and stunted growth, and their mothers into stress and worry.

Father Lazar Arasu, director of Don Bosco Palabek, said, “Once an elderly refugee leader came to his little grass hut carrying his meager portion of monthly ration of food consisting of 12 kilograms of maize flour, 9 kilograms of beans, and 900 milliliters of oil and broke down to tears. I tried to console him and inquired about the cause of his tears. With a heavy heart, he said, ‘Father, I am a leader, I have grown-up children, I lived a respectful life, but now I am forced to stand in queue and given this meager quantity of food that should take me for a month, It is a big humiliation for me to receive this food. I should be the one feeding others.’”

Salesian missionaries at Palabek are working to counter the food shortage through the cultivation of food including cereals, vegetables, and if possible, some cash crops such as sim sim, groundnuts and sunflower. The goal is to promote kitchen gardens of vegetables and fruits, hire land from the local Ugandans, and create agreements to work together with the host community.

Five Salesian missionaries live and work in Palabek along with the refugee population, so they can assess the need directly to provide solutions they know will work. As most organizations have left due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 and resulting lockdown, Salesians are the first service providers in action. They have provided several hundred kilos of maize, beans, soya beans, sim sim, groundnuts and many assorted vegetable seeds. They have also provided tons of cassava cuttings.

“Because refugees do not have sufficient land but are interested in cultivating larger pieces of land, we have put them in groups and hired land for them from the local Ugandan neighbors,” explained Fr. Arasu. “Where necessary we have also plowed the land for them. When the locals are inspired to till more land, we also ended up helping them. We thank our partners Don Bosco Jugendhilfe Weltweit for their support in this project.”

Uganda has become home for more than 1.3 million refugees—82 percent of whom are women and children—in the wake of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. Millions have fled South Sudan and nearly 400,000 have died as a result of armed clashes. Many of those who have fled to Uganda have taken refuge at the Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda.

According to UNHCR, Palabek is currently home to nearly 56,000 refugees and asylum seekers. It was officially set up in April 2016 to reduce congestion in larger refugee camps in the northwestern corner of Uganda. Several agencies are involved in providing food and education within Palabek.

Salesian missionaries at the settlement are offering much-needed psycho-social support and pastoral care for thousands of Christian residents. They also operate four nursery schools that educate more than 1,000 children. In addition, more than 700 children are attending Salesian primary and secondary schools and more than 700 families are supported by other initiatives.

Salesian missionaries also launched a vocational training center to offer life skills and other training to help young refugees prepare for employment. Young refugees can attend vocational training courses for free. Depending on the discipline, some courses run for 3-6 months while others run as long as a year. Salesian missionaries have also set up a job placement office that helps students make contact with companies that are hiring, prepare resumes and prep for interviews, and find internships and on-site training opportunities.

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Photo courtesy of Don Bosco Palabek

Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Resettlement Camp

Salesian Missions – Uganda