The Flight from the DRC to Uganda
Fearing for their lives and those of their children, many refugees fled with only the clothes on their back. This eighteen-year-old woman ran away from her village because of thugs not belonging to any rebel groups came with guns and pangas (machetes) to kill and loot. She was one of the lucky ones because her husband came with her and her only baby, they did not have time to collect their belongings. They walked for four days to reach the border of Uganda where they were picked up by trucks and brought to the transit camp.
When my clinic door opened to let in the next patient, I was bombarded with a thirty-three-year-old woman with five children aged five months to twelve years; all of them hanging onto one another, wide-eyed and anxious and the baby clinging to his mother but actually looking much better than I expected. In the course of examining the baby, the droopy, listless seven-year-old girl who could barely hold herself up slowly slumped onto the floor. Somewhere along the way, the baby must have made a puddle of urine on the floor and this little girl had curled herself next to the puddle fast asleep.
Their heart-breaking story began when their father left them to fend for themselves when the last baby was three months old. Many Congolese men run away to save themselves from being captured by the rebels and made a soldier out of them, many more are killed. Some have gone on to Uganda for resettlement and their wives only hope to reunite with them once they are in Uganda. They have to be sure that they themselves are resettled in the same camp. It took this woman one month to walk to the border with her five children all barefoot, begging for food however she could, seeking shelters in churches or in the bushes. She said to me "Thank God we have finally reached Uganda". Her trouble was not over as she reached the camp late yesterday, she received no food, mats or blankets and the night was cold. They were all thinly clad and had not had a meal. It turned out the droopy girl, her eight-year-old sister and the baby had malaria. It is hard for me to fathom trudging along with five little ones for a month without the security of food and shelter. And this woman did it like many women in the camp who have similar stories to tell. They survive and endure all the hardship because of their children, they are the true heroines of the refugee stories.
On my way out, I saw three of the children sharing a meal of maize and beans from a plastic bag. The droopy girl seemed more energetic and awake now that she had some food in her belly. As we drove by the transit center, two women each with a bundle of clothes balanced on their heads made their way slowly to the entrance, some semblance of safety and shelter awaited them at last.