A few weeks before Christmas I had the opportunity to fly and photograph a visit by some MAF donors to one of the Refugee Settlements in Northern Uganda. The day started with a 1.5 hour flight up to Moyo, just along the border with South Sudan, pictured below.
My good friend and fellow MAF pilot, Hansjoerg (pictured below greeting the MTI folks who were going to take us to visit one of their health centers) and I tag-teamed the flying. Hansjoerg, our Training Captain, was especially thankful for the generosity of the donors, who provided the new Redbird motion flight simulator that is now being heavily used by our flight training department here in Uganda.
The purpose of this little excursion was to show these donors some of the work/ministry that our MAF users are doing among the South Sudanese Refugees in Northern Uganda. Here's a shot of the group that day, including of course the generous donors, several folks from the MAF communications team, and several from MTI, the fantastic organization who had graciously agreed to show us the work they are doing to help the refugees.
Heres' a few more shots I grabbed as folks were milling around the plane...
As I mentioned, we were joining up that day with MTI (Medical Teams International) They are doing an amazing work/ministry in a number of locations around the world, including here among the South Sudanese Refugees in Northern Uganda.
Uganda hosts more refugees than any other country in Africa. In fact, they are one of the top refugee hosting countries in the entire world. They also hold the distinction of having the single largest refugee settlement in the world, the Bidi Bidi settlement, which is now home to approximately 270,000 refugees. Currently there are more than 1.3 million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, and the number still continues to grow day by day. Over 80% of these are women and children, many (or most) of whom have undergone extreme trauma prior to fleeing to the safety of Uganda.
These three shots (above and below) show the refugee settlements in the Yumbe area of Northern Uganda. Flying over this area, the refugee settlements seem to stretch to the horizon. In every direction, as far as you can see, are the settlements stretch on and on.
The shot below shows hundreds of people gathered for a food distribution in one small part of just one of the many vast settlements in that region.
New settlements are continually being created (as in the picture below,) and older settlements are continually being expanded, to make room for the ever-increasing demands. In many refugee camps around the world, people are often crammed into side-by-side tents, like sardines in a can, and then fenced in like caged animals. Living conditions are often worse than bad. But here in Uganda each 'family unit' (very few are actually complete families--most are women and children) is given a plot of land for a garden, and the basic materials with which to build the type of living hut to which they are accustomed. (The tarps/tents are temporary, until they can each construct their more permanent dwellings.) Water bore holes are drilled in appropriate locations and medical facilities and schools are provided. Compared to the desperate conditions from which they fled, these conditions prove to be quite 'comfortable' for most, and they tend to be very thankful for the help they are receiving, and especially for the safety/security. I'm always humbled and convicted when I'm in one of these settlements... especially since many of us tend to take these basic necessities of life for granted--shelter, food, water, medical care, education, safety and security, etc.
On this particular day we were visiting the Palorinya Settlement in the Moyo district of far Northern Uganda, which is one of the many locations where MTI is providing quality health care for many thousands of refugees.
After landing on the grass airstrip in Moyo, we hopped in a Toyota Land Cruiser and drove an hour and a half down dusty roads. These settlements are amazingly vast--in fact much of the time we were driving to the MTI health center, we were actually already driving in the Palorinya Settlement. It just seemed to go on and on and on... and yet this is just one of many, similar settlements throughout Northern Uganda. During the trip to the health center, we passed no less than three of MTI's Ambulances, each carrying patients with critical needs in the opposite direction to the health facilities in Moyo town.
Inside the Idiwa Health Center, many refugees were patiently waiting to be seen by MTI's very friendly and professional staff, most of whom are Ugandan.
I was very impressed with the work and ministry that MTI is doing. Next time I'll show you some photos of some of their amazing staff in action.