Since the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in 2013, Uganda has offered a place of safety to more than 1 million people fleeing the conflict since July 2017. More than 85% of the refugees are women and children. Meryll Patois, HI’s rehabilitation technical advisor in Uganda outlines the needs of South Sudanese refugees and the services that our teams are providing.
Caring for the most vulnerable
The needs are acute among South Sudanese refugees due to the type of conflict they're fleeing. HI is the first organization to provide this type of service—there are no other rehabilitation services in the camp. We can see the violence of the conflict on the bodies of our beneficiaries. Some people have suffered extreme violence and did not have access to any healthcare for a long time. They had to flee with their injuries, worsening the damage to their bodies.
Many of the people our teams are helping have fractures and injuries caused from shotguns. Many were attacked during the night and had to run away. Most of them have walked in very difficult conditions for days, without having access to any health services. We see a lot of beneficiaries who have unnecessary complications from simple injuries—these could have healed better if they were dealt with at an early stage. If a fracture is not treated right away, for example, it can lead to complications and long-term impairment.
HI has an integrated approach, which sets our services apart. We take a holistic view of every beneficiary we meet. For example, a mother with a broken leg cannot walk. So she cannot go and buy food in the market, work, or take care of her children. She may also have psychological trauma. In this case, our team would provide her with rehabilitation support but also psychological and protection support, and refer her to other organizations so that she can have access to all of the services she needs.
Our team would also try to find out if there is a caretaker who could help a person with an injury or disability. If so, we would train each caretaker, so they know what to do to support their friend, neighbor, family member, etc. We find a lot of solidarity in the camps. Neighbors are supporting each other even if they only just met. We rely on these human links to make sure beneficiaries can get all the care they need.
For example, one of our beneficiaries, Beatrice, is a 10-year-old, little girl whose legs are paralyzed due to complications from the Polio virus. She cannot walk. We will provide her with a wheelchair to go to school and we will also teach her mother how to support her daughter with physical therapy exercises.
Reaching and empowering the invisible
There is a huge injustice for people who cannot move around and don’t have access to the services they need because they cannot leave their shelter. HI is reaching these people who are often unintentionally excluded from humanitarian aid. Our role is to make sure that they receive the support they need. Sadly, there are still many in need of that support today.
HI has a fixed point in the camp for rehabilitation services, it's here that people can find us. We also have mobile teams of physical therapists, who reach individuals who are unable to leave their shelters. During a rehabilitation session, HI’s physical therapists work on movements to help the beneficiaries recover. If movement is not possible, HI’s team provides the beneficiaries with assistive devices such as crutches or wheelchairs to help improve their daily life.
We have a protection team that travels around the camp and identifies the most vulnerable people and their needs. We also rely on HI's community based volunteers, who are also refugees and know the community very well. Similarly, some beneficiaries are referred to us by other NGO partners such as Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.
More about our work in Uganda
Present in the country since 2009, our teams helps victims of landmines and other explosive remnants of war to recover through physical rehabilitation, psychological support, and job training. Staff members also educate other Ugandans about the risks posed by these weapons. We are also conducting a census of people with disabilities, referring them to relevant services. Learn more about our work in Uganda.
Photo: Tabitha, 8, is from South Sudan and now lives in Omugo refugee camp in Uganda with her family. Tabitha has difficulty walking due to Polio. HI provided her with new crutches, adjusted to her height, so she can go to school with ease.