Renowned photographer Giles Duley visited a refugee camp in Omugo, Uganda, where he met refugees with disabilities fleeing violence in South Sudan. Many of these individuals who were affected by the conflict, shared their personal stories and the significant challenges they face in the refugee camp.
Beatrice, who sits next to her mom, Reida, are a part of the 1 million South Sudanese who have taken refuge in Uganda.
Beatrice, who became paralyzed at age six due to the polio virus, wishes she could play with the other kids in the camp. Soon after this photo was taken, Beatrice received a wheelchair from HI’s team. As a result, she will be able to attend school and play with others.
Reida, Beatrice’s mother, sorts through beans that she will soon cook over wood for her three children. Beatrice likes to cook the sauce for the beans and often helps her mother.
John had his leg amputated in 2012 as a result of cancer. When shootings started during the night in his village in South Sudan, he had to leave in a hurry with his wife. John took his crutches but had to leave his prosthesis behind.
In the camp, John became a community volunteer with Humanity & Inclusion. He travels around the refugee camp to identify vulnerable people and people with disabilities, so that our teams can ensure they receive the support they need.
Catarina fled violence in South Sudan with her family. She feels very lonely in the refugee camp. It is very rocky which makes it difficult for Catarina to get around. She wishes she could go and have a chat with her neighbors and visit others in the camp.
Mary fled the violence in South Sudan and took refuge with her family in Omugo refugee camp.
“I wonder if I will see my friends again?” she said. She cannot reach her friends that she used to visit in South Sudan. They are all separated in other camps. It makes her feel stressed.
Mary has a disability due to the polio virus and also has scoliosis. She had to leave her wheelchair behind when she fled and now struggles to move throughout the camp.
Conditions are extremely harsh for everyone living in South Sudan’s Bentiu camp, but people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. A new report by Humanity & Inclusion and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assesses the situation in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians Site in South Sudan, where humanitarian services struggle to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
The civil war raging in South Sudan has forced many Southern Sudanese to flee to camps like Bentiu. Several humanitarian organizations are helping, but improvements must be made to ensure humanitarian response takes into account the needs and rights of people with disabilities.
Present in the field, HI and IOM have identified discriminating factors affecting people with disabilities and recommended ways to promote more inclusive humanitarian response.
Inaccessible water and food
People with disabilities say they’re unable to fully benefit from the site’s humanitarian infrastructure and services. Major barriers identified include long distances, inaccessible infrastructure and roads, information formats poorly adapted to their disability, and discrimination. In fact, some 49% of surveyed people with disabilities reported particular difficulty accessing clean drinking water due to the distance to water pumps and unsuitable road surfaces. Many people reported difficulty moving around their shelter. Children with disabilities cannot access child-friendly spaces.
Although there are priority queues at food distribution sites, people with disabilities are finding it difficult to get their rations home safely, because containers are unsuitable and often stolen by others along the routes to their shelters.
These are just some of the discriminating factors that make daily life more difficult for people with disabilities in the camp.
Inclusive humanitarian services needed
The report suggests ways for humanitarian services to become more inclusive. These include prioritizing funding for inclusive programs, adapting infrastructure and information sources, improving mechanisms to protect against abusive behaviour, and requesting technical support from local and international disability representatives.
Funding bodies, camp coordinators and humanitarian organizations can ensure that people with disabilities feel protected and involved in sites like Bentiu. By adapting their activities to meet the needs of people with disabilities, humanitarian actors can optimize services for people living in camps and help ensure inclusive and accessible humanitarian assistance for all.
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.
Twelve-year-old Emmanuel is a student at Illuhum school in Torit, a region to the east of the capital Juba, in South Sudan. Because of his disability, his mother used to carry him to school on her back, before going to work as a coal seller. A heavy burden on her, it also made life difficult for Emmanuel, who was often late for school.
That is, until he met Humanity & Inclusion (which operates under the name “Handicap International” in South Sudan). Since receiving a tricycle from our team, Emmanuel now travels to and from school on his own. “I still can’t believe I can go so far, so fast!” he says.
“Including people with disabilities in their communities and ensuring they enjoy the same chance of success is vital,” explains Paul Crichley, the Director of HI in South Sudan. “It’s also important that people with disabilities have equal access to healthcare and education. Thanks to his new tricycle, Emmanuel is more independent and can now take part in a complete range of school activities, just like his friends.”
Emmanuel’s school is one of several supported by HI, which helps to make the facility more accessible to children with disabilities. According to Crinchley, it’s been three years since the project was launched and it continues to have a positive impact on people’s lives. “It’s easier to physically access the schools now,” he continues. “And we’ve trained teachers to include children with disabilities in the classroom.” These teachers will continue HI’s work even after the project has ended.
In the Torit region alone, HI has handed out 40 mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and tricycles, to give independence and dignity to people like Emmanuel, who can now move around more easily.
Emmanuel is no longer the last to arrive at school. In fact, he’s always the first! And because he can move around by himself, he plays an active role in school life, and has even been voted class representative. What does he want to be when he grows up? “I want to study and help people who can’t walk, especially children like myself,” he says. “I want to play an equal role in their community.”
HI in South Sudan
HI first deployed an emergency response team to South Sudan in 2006. Since then, our teams have continued to adapt its activities to respond to the immediate needs of the internally displaced population, and promote the equal rights and equal access to services for people with disabilities or injuries. Learn more about our work in South Sudan.
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