Hi everyone!

I’m not sure if you’re still reading this as we have been away for quite some time, but I’m hoping some of you will take a look. Lara and I are both back in Toronto now; where I am working on the upcoming GuluWalk and Lara is working on her MFA at Ryerson University.

I wanted to write again for 2 reasons; one, to tell you how the final days in northern Uganda went and two, to tell you about our upcoming projects and ideas.

First off, the final goodbye from Padibe was definitely a sad time. Although we were ready to leave camp life, I was not ready to leave my new friends and neighbours. I still miss them daily. The people of Padibe showed us a kindness that you can only see so often in this world and I want to thank them for everything they did for us.

Upon arriving in Gulu on the night of July 31, we were in quite a state of disarray. The culture shock was unbelievable! Both Lara and I had both grabbed a couple candles on the way out of Padibe and we only remembered about regular electricity when we returned to the hotel in Gulu. The city was much busier than Padibe and it took some getting used to. The next few days were a whirlwind, and so rushed that it was hard to concentrate on anything. After hearing some sad family news, I was kind of in a state of shock.

However, we have not forgotten about Padibe and we are working towards bigger things to raise more awareness about IDPs. In the last two months, preparations for the annual global GuluWalk has been in full force. This year the event will take place on October 25, 2008. Please join me, Lara and thousands of others worldwide as we walk for peace in northern Uganda. You can register or get more information at www.guluwalk.com.

In addition, Lara is working on an event for June 2009. Hosted in the City of Toronto at Dundas square, Lara will be focusing on IDPs and raising awareness about their plight. If you would like to find out more information email us at info@guluwalk.com.

Well that’s it for now. We will continue to spread the word about IDPs and about northern Uganda. With over 27 million IDPs in this world, it’s our duty to find out more.

Thanks to everyone who supported us this summer and thanks for staying involved. We’d also like to say a big thank you to everyone in Padibe, to Ojibu for always being such a great help and informant, to Augustine for his tremendous support, to GuluWalk for all their efforts, and to everyone that read this blog and passed it on. It’s been a long time coming for this thank you but we have not forgotten.

More to come…

~Andrea

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For the young

July 30, 2008

Well…only 1 day to go, and I feel a little weird saying that. Lucky me…yes, lucky me indeed. I get to come here for one month and then leave. Leave back to running water, proper sanitation, health care, education, accessible food, family, friends and peace (to name only a few things that are lacking here in Padibe IDP Camp, Northern Uganda).

We have visited 2 more schools in the last couple of days and I want to dedicate this entry to all Padibe youth, and more generally, the whole generation of children who have grown up knowing only the reality of this war, and the hardships of camp life.

We visited Padibe Primary school (grade 7) on Monday. The ages in the class range from 13 to 18 years old, mostly due to interruptions in studies due to abduction, poverty, being orphans and disease.

After a lot of questions about Canada, and how it is possible for us to have peace since the 1800’s (they were blown away by that! And the concept of a subway system!!!), we gave them the same exercise of writing about their experiences growing up during the war and what camp life is like. Again, reading the answers were difficult.

POEM: female, age 15

AIDS AIDS
Who created you?
You are finishing our life
What is your matter?
One month you kill our mother
One month you kill our father
Now you are leaving us orphans
We wish we knew where you come
These children, in addition to rape, defilement, abduction, child soldiering, disease, lack of clean water, and lack of food also spoke specifically and numerously about HIV/AIDS. Many tied rape together with the problem of the quick spread of HIV/AIDS.

Also, here is also a drawing of one boy’s (age 15) experience of the difficulties of war.

On the school grounds were signs warning and teaching children.

Can you imagine these in a primary school in Canada?

We also visited a Secondary school yesterday. We met their Secondary 3 class, ages from 16 to 20.

A new issue that many of them brought up was abortion, and death from abortion attempts. Not surprising, considering the prevalence of rape and defilement.

They also wrote at length about Child Rights, and how life in the camps and at war has led to destruction of their culture, and of a correlating decline in morality.
Here are some excerpts:

“…there was constant death…day and night. I was abducted in 2003 and I stayed for 2 years in the bush as a killer. I am also an orphan because all my parents were killed as a result of war.” -male, age 19.

“For me as an individual, I experienced murder. It was 2003-2004 when I was with the rebels. They forced me to kill my brothers and sisters and I managed to do it.” -male, age 16.

“Personal experience: abducted, tortured, heavy luggage to carry, raped, forced to kill, parents were killed.” -female, age 17.

“When I was in Primary seven, I was taken away from my parents by the rebels and I stayed in the bush for 2 months. Some little mercy came one of them and he told me to run home. When I came back home, I found all my parents are dead of this epidemic cholera. My stepmother always mistreat us…” -female, age 16.
“Rights of children: People don’t respect our rights.
1-Children taken by touching
2-Defilement very common in camp
3-Rape” -female, age 15.

And really, I can go on and on. We have collected over 130 written accounts from the children here, and they all deserve to be heard. We will try and figure out a way to do that once we are back in Canada.

I guess what is really hard to convey to you all is the reality of being here. EVERYONE here has been severely affected by this war. The nice woman who helps us chop firewood, our neighbour “security” man, the bright students curiously questioning us about Canada’s winter, our translator and blogger…everyone we meet, everyone who lives here.

We have been trying to document a lot of these stories for you, to give you a face to connect to…  (we will put out these stories in different forms throughout the year). We hope it has helped show you a little of what happens here, what is needed here and how important peace here really is.

We will blog again once we leave here, but for now, this is the last blog I write here in Padibe. I first came to Padibe in 2004. We were in a military convoy on our way past Padibe to Lokung, when we came upon an ambush right before the camp. We found 1 dead man and some severely injured. We continued traveling with our convoy and I clearly remember the smiling faces of the children as we arrived in Padibe to drop the injured off at the clinic. The children always smiled and waved when we traveled through a camp, but somehow…things were different now. I had seen just a small portion of the death that this war had brought and their smiles seemed so much more remarkable to me this time.

It is those smiles that I still see around me here today. It is the children who desperately want out of poverty, who want to be rid of diseases, who want and believe in peace despite all that they have lived to the contrary.

I’ll leave you with this:

“Oh..our war is not our interest but we got it so innocently
Oh…oh…our leaders…what is our problem about?
Is all about war?
WE are getting difficulty in living in this world.” -female, age 18.

Lara

Camp life is not fun…

July 28, 2008

After 4 weeks of staying in the camp, I think I’m finally starting to feel like a resident of Padibe. Those feelings consist of anger, frustration, hunger, tiredness, sadness, and last but not least, hope. I know I will never understand or feel what a real IDP feels and to be honest, I don’t want to…and I wish no one had to experience this state. We came here to witness the life of an IDP, but we will never ‘really’ experience that, because we are not.

In the past few weeks I have come to dislike, or even hate, camp life. Don’t get me wrong, I love northern Uganda (it’s such a beautiful country) and I love the kind people of Padibe that I have come to call my friends, but camp life is not something you can love or even like. In the time I’ve spent in Padibe IDP camp, I have been eaten alive by bugs, been dirty most of the time, been spied on while in the shower, have been hungry, have had to walk around feces (and not just animal!) everyday, have had to be more cautious of disease than ever before, have almost been robbed,  have been surrounded by cockroaches (they show up in our hut as well), have not had one night of soundless sleep, and have been witnessing and watching people around me suffering since July 1st! Camp life is not fun. Camp life is not somewhere you want to keep your family or raise children. Camp life is not safe. Camp life is not clean…and camp life needs to stop!

I do mention hope though because you can see it in the eyes of people we interview and talk to. Residents of Padibe are returning home, but only few. There are still 25,000 residents here! I grew up in the small town of Orillia, Ontario and it totaled 27,000 people a few years back. However, Orillians were spread out over much land and there’s no way I would have wanted to be herded into a small space, such as the space in Padibe, with everyone (no offence to the residents of Orillia!). For those of you from any small town, can you imagine that?

But that’s the thing, I go back to Gulu and leave camp life in 3 days. I get to go home in one week. When will the people of northern Uganda and Padibe get to return home? When will they be free to live the lives they have missed for decades now?

I also said I would update you on Helen, so here you go. Yesterday we went to visit her homestead again and we were happy to see the brickwork finished and the roof being prepared. 

 

Helen and her 7 children have already been staying at home (in the kitchen for now), and are thrilled to leave the camp. Yesterday we talked with Helen’s eldest daughter, Agnes.

We asked her what she wanted to do when she grows up and her answer, “I want to be a nurse so I can try my best to sort out and assist with my mother’s problems.” From the look in her eyes, I believe Agnes will become a nurse. From the look in the eyes of many people in northern Uganda, I believe they will succeed and I believe there will be peace. I just hope it’s sooner than later…the time is now!

I want to thank everyone for the supportive and informative comments over the past few weeks. We have received them all and are very appreciative. We thank you for paying attention and taking an active interest in IDPs!

Until next time,

~Andrea

Hello all! Only one week left- we have so much to tell you, and so many people’s stories to convey- I know that just these little stories are so little, and these people deserve so much more space and time- but, here’s what we can do for the now….

First, I’d like to give a short update on Beatrice Aceng. Those of you who know me know that I have been visiting Beatrice since January 2007. It is my third time spending time with her and I am happy to tell that she is doing well. She had a baby- Vita, + he is amazing!!! (The longer version of Beatrice’s (+ my story) will come out next June as part of my thesis work.)

I met Beatrice when she was 15 years old. She is an orphan- her father was killed by Karamajong warriors when she was 1 year old and her mother died of HIV/AIDS when she was 8. She was head of her household and taking care of her 3 brothers. She had been abducted by the LRA for 1 year as well. When I saw her last December 2007, she was 16, had a fight with her brothers and had gotten pregnant. The father was in jail. She was living away from her brothers in the camp + had repeated bouts of typhoid that made her drop out of school. She was not doing well at all. I tried to help + get her to a tailoring school in Gulu, but she was too far along in her pregnancy + they sent her all the way back to the camp (much to my anger + frustration!!!). All this, and other specific complications, made me more committed to child mother cases and their plight. (See http://www.moonfruit.peacegirl.com for more information…)

In any case, this is a hopeful story right now. She is doing well- the father is out of jail, they are living together and he seems like a good man. Baby Vita is happy + healthy. They are still in the camp, but he (Kilama) is building them a house on his land nearby. She is now 17 and is the happiest that I have seen her! Again, more in depth on her later…

O.k., so to continue where Andrea left off- alcohol in the camps…
There is this prominent sign when you enter the camp:

But, unfortunately, for many women, brewing alcohol is the only way that they can make any money.

Meet Angee Mary. She is 44 years old and has been living in the camp for 20 years. She first came here after attacks from Karamajong warriors were increasing in 1988!!! She brews alcohol because it is the only way that she could put her children through school + buy food stuff. She sells 1/2 litre for about 22 cents. She had 15 children, but 6 of them died of different diseases. She is brewing alcohol today because her last born son, 9 years old, pictured in background, has no uniform to go to school.

She would like to return home, but her husband is sick. She also said that the NGO programs are few and that the people in real need do not benefit from them because of corruption. She asks for a loan to start a business so that she can stop brewing alcohol.

Here is another woman brewing alcohol. She did not want her name used. She also sells the drink directly and many men hang around her compound and use it as a “local” bar. She also says that she brews alcohol because she has no other means of generating income to support her children. Although she did not want to specify why, she is also the sole provider for her children.

Again, the alcohol brewing industry seems to be the only practical means of generating an income for many camp residents. Ahh..but it is indeed a vicious circle. Alcoholism breeds domestic violence and neglect…leaving women as the sole income generators to support their families…so they turn to brewing alcohol as the only means they can find. Which leads to more alcohol consumption…

This is Aketo Eterina, 48 yrs old (far left) and some of the family that she still cares for. Her husband has returned to the village but he drinks excessively and is abusive, so she remains in the camp. She also cares for an orphan who she says was not eligible for any NGO programs because he was not orphaned by HIV/AIDS. (Again, simply not enough programs to meet all the different needs…). She says that there is nothing productive to do in the camp as she cannot walk long distances to the garden, and she does not want to brew alcohol, and that they sometimes go without food. Like so many other camp residents, she still relies heavily on the World Food Program to survive.

Her daughter, Josephine (center) is 18 years old with a 2 year old baby girl. The father of the child did not wish to pay the family for getting her pregnant while she was still in school, so she remains in this hut, with her mother, working domestically at the Mission to try to help her mother support their family of 7.

I need to digress a little here about income generating activities in the camp, aid and dependence. So many people we have been speaking to require so little actual investment to get on their feet: 25$ to fix a ball-bearing to get a grinding mill working, 30$ to invest in a sewing machine to get a tailoring business started, 10$ to fix their roof so they may move out of the camp and back to their homesteads… It seems like a small business loan program would be very helpful here. Perhaps there are programs like that that exist here in Padibe (I have not heard of them), but if so, there are not nearly enough to give camp residents a fighting chance.

I also need to mention what I have heard from residents who will not return home. This may be hard for some to imagine- but this is most people’s second stay in the camp. Most people lived here from 1997 to 2000. Then, in a time of relative security, they returned to their homesteads. Then, they were forced back into the camps again by LRA and UPDF fighting in 2002 or 2003. It is not hard to imagine why people are now hesitant to return home again and rely on the land (even if they do have the means to build their huts + roofs). Most say that they will not return unless a peace agreement is signed and Kony has returned.

(p.s. The World Food Program had their delivery on Wednesday. The lines were long and after the distribution, small groups formed to split up the foodstuff. Many fights broke out amongst the groups because of the reduced rations and disagreements on how the food should now be split).

O.k., a little dense I know- but it’s been intense here and I feel responsible to the people we meet to at least get some of their stories to you. Andrea and I are fine- she recovered from her alcohol sampling (!), and we find it quite bizarre that we have less than 1 week here in Padibe IDP Camp. I’m feeling a little helpless- like I want to do so much more…that I can’t leave while these people remain…that I should start a loan program…or learn to build roofs…or I don’t know…

Anyways, that’s my shtick to deal with. I sincerely hope that our actions here do some good for the people of Padibe and of Northern Uganda.

Peace,

Lara

We are officially on lockdown…or at least it feels that way sometimes. Our landlord (he lives next door) and neighbours have basically blocked off most entrances to our compound. Why you ask? Well, remember that man that Lara spoke about last blog? He returned later that evening with a friend(probably about the same time she was writing about him at the mission). His intent; to rob us. Charles, one of our neighbours, saw him and had him arrested. Things became quite intense for the next couple days, but all is well now. He is not in custody unfortunately though, so we are just hoping that he does not return to our area! This just reminds us of the lack of security in the camp and the easy accessiblity to the so many homes. It also shows the community that is around us and the safety we have with them.

Last week we met Helen and her 7 children. Their ages ranging from 15 down to 2.

Helen came into our lives by accident but we’re very glad she did. Everyday we hear about women that cannot return to the homestead and men that are idle in the camp during the day. So we thought, why not give a man a job for a day and get someone back home? Now, we realize that we cannot do this for everyone, but Helen and her children touched us in a special way.

After meeting Helen we found out that not only did she have 7 children, she had a hut that you could barely call a home, and a husband that had left them 3 years ago. They literally had nothing; no door, no blankets, no pots, no shoes, and no mats to sleep on.

Her husband, it turned out, was abusive and an alcoholic. He left them, left the clan and got a new wife in Kitgum town.

So, on Monday we made our way out to her home about 3kms away. Our plan was to pay for the labour for her roof and get her and her children back home. It didn’t seem that difficult. However, there were some delays. The man that was supposed to help, did not show up. Then, when we offered a neighbour the job, he unfortunately charged too much. Therefore, Ojibu and Charles ended up completing it for free.

We also learned that the roof she wanted completed was her kitchen! These huts are much to small for a family of 8 to live in, and she really needed the living quarters completed. The next plan of action was to first complete the kitchen (from the kind volunteer services of Ojibu and Charles) and then we would pay for the main hut to be completed next week (for a grand total of about $20CAD). That is where we are left off, and the hut will now be completed on Sunday! On Monday, this family will return home:).

Alcoholism has not only left Helen alone and raising 7 children by herself, but it is also consuming the camp. It affects many IDPs and it tears many families apart. I can honestly say that there has not been one day in Padibe that I have not witnessed a drunk person. Many men drink but women also do. I am not a doctor and I cannot confirm the exact reasons for drinking but if I were to guess, living in the camp may play a part in this problem. Not only are people drinking but they are drinking excessively. Instead of going home to their families, you can find many in the local bar after returning from the gardens. Instead of giving money to the family for food, it is wasted on alcohol. Instead of supporting his 7 children, Helen’s husband has abandoned them all.

 

Since this plays such a role in camp life, yesterday I decided to visit a bar myself. I wanted to see what it was like. Here’s the experience. 

While talking to the patrons at the bar I found that it is very easy to access alcohol, as it is produced right in the camp. A 600ml bottle of local brew costs only 300 Ugandan Shillings…that would be about 22cents. For many women, brewing alcohol becomes a main source of income; even Helen makes it, now that she has no other means of income. Although it’s not the greatest occupation, it’s really the only thing she has right now.

With only one week left in Padibe, our time is precious and stories are vital. We’ll be posting many in the coming days, so stay tuned…and also stay tuned for an update of Helen at home:).

In peace,

~Andrea

Things are moving very quickly these days- maybe because we have 10 days left, maybe it’s the hunger, or maybe we are just meeting a ton of people whose stories we want to get out.

I have to tell you about this boy I met.

I met him on Sunday while planting beans and sunflowers. His English is great and he has a British accent. He also speaks Arabic, Japanese and some Chinese. He astoundingly knows things about the US and Canada, (like where the planes are made?!), and has traveled extensively in this region…I found out that he was abducted in 1995 and was with the LRA for about 5 years. He has killed many, many people and has nightmares and is quite disturbed.

I tell you this to remind you all of the alarming statistic that 2 out of 10 people under the age of 26 in northern Uganda were abducted by the LRA at some point. I remind you of this because most people we meet, whether they are barbers, neighbours, helpers with firewood or primary students have been forced to be child soldiers; beaten and forced to kill. All this in addition to currently being Internally Displaced.

The Primary 7 class that we met last week had 7 out of the 36 students freely write about their abduction and their time in ‘the bush’.

Just a reminder that here in northern Uganda, trauma is a serious problem in addition to the others we have named.

Speaking of the other problems, we have taken a photo of the trash pits to give you an idea of where some of the health problems come from.

These open pits become huge mountains and are interspersed amidst the huts within the camps, close to living quarters, water sources and latrines.

We also met a group of disabled women.

These ladies, in addition to being widows, are disabled, have no family and have been rejected by the community as useless. They try to make some money by braiding hair and making brooms, but a return to their traditional lands in unimaginable. Unimaginable because they don’t have the means or the labour necessary to rebuild their homes. Unfortunately, survival in the camp is a big enough challenge for them.

To end, this is Rosalva.

She is 65 and has survived war under Idi Amin’s tyranny, and for the last 23 years, this LRA-Government war. She barely reminders a time of peace. She is not sure if there will ever be peace here, but peace to her means a return home, without violent acts, and having enough means to comfortably survive.

It was thought provoking speaking to Rosalva. I have done so much research on this 23 year old war, and have visited so many times since 2004, and am so obsessed with the horrible conditions in the camps and the generation that has been scarred by this war. I had forgotten, or really overlooked, the fact that prior to this war was another terrible period under Idi Amin.

When will it be time for peace for the people of northern Uganda? How many generations will grow up in the floodlights of terror, displacement and war? How much can one people, one tribe, one culture take?

Lara

No where to turn

July 18, 2008

Well, we’ve made it past the half way mark and we find it very difficult to believe that we have been in Padibe now for more than 2 weeks.

Sometimes we find that we start to lose perspective of the situation here but then we are punched in the face (not literally) with reality. The next story will explain.

On Wednesday we had the privilege of visiting the winning school of the Padibe East music competition; Padibe Boys Primary School. The music class was outside cleaning their outfits and preparing for the regional competition in Kitgum on Thursday and Friday. The children were all very excited and you could feel it in the atmosphere.

To get the day started we showed the P7 (ages 13-16) class some video from the competition.

The rest of our visit consisted of introducing ourselves and our project, answering any questions they might have, and also finding out about their experiences/life in the camp. We ended up learning more than we bargained for.

At the P7 level, children are able to write quite well in English, so we asked them to tell us about the good and the bad of camp life. They were all very open and honest.

The good usually consisted of two things; 1. Free Food from different organizations, 2. People being educated. However, many wrote that nothing was good about camp life. Not shocking.

The bad always consisted of a much longer list. Some of the issues were heavy work, poverty, poor sanitation, problems of food, money for school fees, child soldiers, early marriage, no house, abduction, and disease. One issue came up quite often though and I think it would be best to quote one of the children;

“Men are defiling* many girls. You will be sent by your parents to share the neighbour’s house and if any man knows where you sleep you will be defiled. Rape is happening especially when you are going to collect firewood, to the borehole and even when you are going to school they will wait for you on the way…” –Female, 14.

This may be difficult to hear, but this is reality. Out of the 36 children in the class, 26 had rape and defilement as the top issues in the camp. That’s 73%! Others also mentioned them but lower down on their lists.

This is an issue and it is happening often. We visited the health clinic yesterday and the clinical officer also stated that rape is a real issue in the camp. However, only 3 cases are reported in a month because many girls fear the consequences (or no consequences at all for the men). Many try to solve it domestically he said. Not only are they being raped, but the prevelance of HIV/AIDS is much higher in camps then it is towns. At this specific health clinic over 600 people are being treated but most do not come in for treatment or even know that they are infected.

So, basically, rape is ignored but it is there and many girls are victims.

To be honest, we had heard about the problem of rape and defilement in the camp but we did not realize the issue was happening so often. I felt completely helpless after reading their stories and I think Lara will agree with me when I say, it made the rest of the day more difficult. How do you tell a little girl to go get firewood, water, or go to school when she knows that she may be attacked? And how do you explain to a child that there is nothing you can do about it?

The list of issues for all IDPs keeps on growing and growing…they need to go home.

*Defilement is used as the term for statutory rape; just in case anyone was wondering.

After dinner last night, we decided to lighten the mood and visit the local saloon (otherwise known as the barber shop). It’s on the way to our toilet and we often pass by and just give a wave. It seems like the cool place to be and sometimes it’s pretty intimidating:). We found though that the boys were very welcoming and when Lara asked for a trim, they said no problem at all. Watch the video for the whole experience….tomorrow Lara is getting braids (stay tuned for future pictures)!

Well, that’s it for today. Sorry I couldn’t be a little more positive but we’re here to tell the truth and that’s what we’re going to do:).

~Andrea

Note: Hepatitis E is still on the rise with 134 new cases in Padibe from Monday to Thursday for this week. The clinical officer estimated another 30-40 cases would be discovered today.

Also, there was another ambush on the Lira/Kitgum road. No one has yet to report whether this is LRA or Boo-Kec. We’re waiting to hear more.

One drop-July16th, 2008

July 18, 2008

Hey all! Phew..what a couple of days! We were invited to attend the primary school competition for song, dance and drama.

For those of you who have seen the film War Dance, it is the same competition, just at the first stage, at the local level. Wow- it was pretty amazing…Here is a young girl’s (primary 6) poem to give you an idea of what we were in for:

Home! Home! Home!
Where can I find you?
Is it in the East, West, South or North?
Where can I feel safest?

Where I am happy to be
I am looking for happiness,
cleanliness and peace.
It is found only at home!

Home! Home! Home!
Cleanliness is next to godliness
Home with latrine, rubbish pit,
Drying stand, bathroom, urinal shelter.

A home with clean compound,
Clean water source, and
Enough sanitary facilities.

Home! Home! Home!
An area without water logs
A place without huge bushes around
All feces in latrine, no cockroaches,
Few flies
Mommy and Daddy care for us all.

This is our home
The home I love
Home! Home! Home!
I say this for God and my country.

Yup….as you can see…hits hard. Combine that emotion with funny dramas about staying in school

and beautiful traditional song, dance and instrumentals.

Pretty wild- the two topics were about the importance of education and the importance of good sanitation. It’s interesting…because that is what Andrea and I seemed to notice the most about living here in the camp.

Aside from that, we are getting along fine. We missed collecting water the other day though, and that was really problematic. Washing hands and dishes and food are super important because of the disease risks, so it was really disconcerting and worrying. But…we survived and now, even more than before, appreciate the 40 litres of water a day that we get (that’s 2 jerry cans). Geez, we’ve been here for 2 weeks already, and we are surviving thanks to the kindness of our neighbours, but, wow- some people have been living here for 12 years…I knew all this before I came here, but I guess trying to deal with the issues on a daily basis, feeling the worries- and for us, they do not even come close to comparing-really makes it more tangible. So odd… I can’t even imagine piling on top of these conditions daily attacks from the rebels, being abducted or seeing my family members killed.

I guess I’m feeling pensive right now… …how can we all have similar souls, live here on earth and yet…not work to ensure a fairer and more peaceful global environment? Look, I’m not naïve…yet, I must still believe somewhere that our system can change. I think it must start from individuals and perhaps cultivating a sense of collective responsibility. Some of you were frustrated because you did not know what you can do. Well, I think you can do whatever you feel comfortable with: sign a petition, call the government, hold a fundraiser, start an advocacy group, send a child to school, visit the region…there are many many things you can do- as long as you do something, there is hope that the system can change. I know this is sort of cheesy, but a waterfall starts with just one drop of water.

Ha! Back to water again…see, pretty important! O.k., on that note, take care,

Lara

Sleepovers and Bandits

July 14, 2008

Last night was long, damp and cold. With all our tossing and turning, I don’t think Lara and I got much sleep. I was definitely wishing for a snooze button when the alarm went off. The thunder was so loud and the lightning so bright that I watched the hut light up over and over again. Then all of a sudden I heard the sound of an ambulance and for a brief moment I questioned where I was. I soon realized it was another Hollywood movie playing across the road. It did remind me of downtown Toronto though, which was sort of nice. It’s funny how the sound of an ambulance siren reminds me of home.

The crew from NGO Forum dropped by as they were doing some fieldwork close by in Mucwini. They decided to leave Jesse (their American intern) for a fun-filled night in Padibe! It felt like we had a play-date and her ‘parents’ would be returning in the morning to pick her up. As this was our first guest, we decided to go all out and make bili nya nya (or eggplant as we say at home). It may not sound like much but after a couple overdoses of beans and rice, it was a welcomed change! (Thanks for the visit Jesse, you are welcome to drop by anytime…just remember to get permission from your ‘parents’ first ☺)

Today I’d like to talk about one thing that always comes up at home; security in the camp. The first thing I’m always asked before I travel is, ‘is it safe?’ This actually seems like a strange question for me, because sometimes I feel more safe here than at home in Toronto. Since in Padibe though, Lara and I have always felt safe. You can tell our neighbours and friends are always looking out for us. However, if you think about the recent Hepatitis E outbreak then it’s not that safe for residents in Padibe. We’re only here for one month, but most residents have lived here for almost 12 years!

We’ve also heard through the grapevine that there has been an issue with boo-kec…otherwise known as ‘bandits’. Some are believed to be ex-LRA that have come out of the bush but had hidden their guns. Upon return, they retrieve their weapons and have then been disturbing people. On Thursday, one man was arrested right in Padibe. He had been living in a hut but never left; he had even built a latrine inside! Apparently he stayed in all day but would leave at night to go steal from people at their homesteads. For residents in the camp, this just makes it even harder to return home. Would you want to return home knowing that there are men roaming around the land waiting to cause havoc?

These men are quite common these days and leave people frightened. So, although camp life is relatively safe, there are many concerns. Although the LRA are not in Uganda right now (however, we’ve heard the last sighting was in February of this year at Lukong-only about 15 km north of here), there are other issues that have left many IDPs wondering about their safety. I would too!

As some days end up being long and hot, we decided to treat ourselves last night with a coke. There are many shops that sell sodas around the camp, so they’re not hard to find. I don’t drink much pop at home, but I always find I drink more here. It just tastes so much better from a glass bottle…I think we should bring it back to Canada☺. As there is no electricity though, the fridge system is quite clever; just keep it in a dark place covered in water….and presto! you have a cold beverage. Here’s a picture.

Well, I must run, there is a music festival today and we’re heading over to Padibe Girls School to watch. The rain has continued this morning, so I’m hoping that it stops soon! (I know the rain is great for crops and it’s a great thing here, but I’m not a fan of being wet all the time…I’ll get over it though☺.

Enjoy your week!

~Andrea

Internet…?

July 12, 2008

Hi all! If you are reading this, then there was finally some hours of internet in Kitgum town!! Talk about a good example of questions about the digital divide!!!

Here is a little clip of walking through the camp to the “market”. We are still amazed at how close the huts are, how people have been living like this for over 10 years, how 1 million people in northern Uganda are still living like this…

Hey everyone! The network in Kitgum town has been down and really spotty…but we’ll keep trying to upload- please be patient with the internet connection in this neck of the woods. (For instance, this one has taken 5 hours to post!!!!). Anyways, we had shot a lovely walk through video of the camp for you, but you’ll have to wait until the network improves.

It’s been a busy couple of days, we finally got our home routine down + have been able to move around more. I’l try to condense here, but it is somewhat frustrating and difficult to relate all that is going on, all that we feel, and give the people who share with us the space and depth that they deserve!

Yesterday, we ventured out to “the gardens”, that is, the space beyond the camp that is green and lush, filled with people’s growing foodstuffs and even some people who have recently returned home and recently rebuilt their homesteads on their traditional land.

This is Kathy Adibu, age 46.

We came upon her on her traditional lands about 4km south of Padibe, attending to a ritual for a child who had a breech birth. We enquired why she has not yet left the camp to rebuild her homestead. We also asked about access to water from her traditional place, but that was not so much of a problem as the bore hole was only about 1 km away (not a problem here apparently!!). We found out that the real problem was that there were no men to build her roofs, and also that the grass to cover the huts would only be ready in December or so…I know, it sounds strange to me too that if you could possibly leave the camps, a little thing like a roof or grass would not stand in your way. But, you do need a roof on your home, and you need willing men and grass to build the roofs; and apparently both are in short supply. She said the worst thing about living in the camp is the lack of privacy, the overcrowding and related diseases and, before there was enough security to reach the gardens, the hunger. I asked her about whether she thinks that peace is here to stay- and she blew me away. She said that as long as there are people still living in the camps, there is no peace, regardless of the “political” situation. It really hit home and completely crystallized why I was here, and what Andrea and I are trying to call attention to.

We went on our way quite pensive in the breezy morning, re-committed and refreshingly inspired. We then walked another 1.5 kms or so and visited a group of elderly women (+ a couple of men) who had started their own community group that pools their time and labour once a week for different work. Check out Andrea below helping them weed g-nuts: can you guess which one she is?


They hope that through donations and their work they could build a type of security for themselves and their community. You don’t get any more grass-roots than that! Talk about helping thyself…and I really admire their ingenuity and daring! These are some of the amazing women on the way back to camp.

When we reached the camp, our pseudo-reverie was shattered. We saw government trucks blaring loud music. People had come out of the camp onto the main road and we stood there with them too. The music turned into a type of public service announcement, and as it turns out, it was about Hepatitis E, Cholera, Meningitis, Typhoid and the importance of cleanliness in the camp. We learned that they were going to show a health film outside of the clinic at 7pm and that the next day should be spent cleaning up the camp.

We went to the “outdoor screening”- it was packed with thousands of people. I am pretty short (around 5’2″), so I asked the tall young man beside me to take this photo.


He was wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, so I figured it was the right way to go! (I am actually a die-hard Montreal Canadians fan, but hockey of any sign is hard to come by here…sorry! Go HABS go!).

In any case, it was a completely bizarre experience to be standing with thousands of others watching health videos about potentially deadly diseases. Even more bizarre was the fact that Andrea and I were probably two of the only sufficiently “privileged” people there who were actually vaccinated against the described diseases (Hep E excluded)…and most of the diseases do not exist in Canada. O.k., I can go on here a lot, but I’ll get to my rant soon.

Contrary to the update of my last blog, Hep E is not on the decline. New figures for northern Uganda are up to 4824 reported cases. There have been 381 reported cases in Padibe and 72 deaths.

O.k., I guess it’s time for a rant. We were woken up at 6am by the same loudspeakers urging people to clean up the camp…I have to tell you- the people in the camp are some of the cleanest people I have ever met. They bathe every day, brush their teeth, wash all their dishes after every meal, wash their clothes…everything one can do! What is the problem is the crowded conditions, lack of proper sanitation facilities and lack of proper medical care.  How can disease be contained when the only place for trash are open pits at the edge of camp- where dogs and unwatched children roam and complicate containment further? How can disease be contained when 25 000 people are squeezed into the space where normally 2000 would live? No, I don’t think solutions lie in simply cleaning up the camp…solutions lie in getting a final peace accord, in getting people returned to their traditional lands and lifestyle; in making the camps, and rampant disease, a sad and difficult memory of the past.

I’ll repeat again what Kathy Adibu said: “…peace will only be here when people are no longer living in the camps”.

Peace out,
Lara

Day 8

July 9, 2008

The days are beginning to go by so fast now. If we’re not fetching water, cooking, or cleaning, we’re off visiting neighbours and learning more and more about life as an IDP.

We thought today would be a good time to show you some our daily sightings.

As mentioned earlier, I thought I would give you a glance at our cockroach infested toilet. Isn’t it lovely?

It usually looks this way only at night, but yesterday I was so thrilled to find them greeting me in the morning. I decided to pass. A man walked by and asked ‘are you fearing the cockroaches?’ I proudly answered ‘yes!’ I admit it whole-heartedly. In the evening we cleaned up and this morning it was fresh as a daisy…or close to it☺.

The beans take forever to cook over the fire and preparing a whole meal takes approximately two hours.

The women here cook 3 meals a day and spend a lot of their time cooking, but also take care of the household chores. Again, we’re just trying to be good Acholi women and they are definitely willing to teach us.

This last picture is where we sleep…and eat and live☺.

This is our hut right before settling for bed. We sleep on papyrus mats and are protected by mosquito nets. Most people in the camp do have nets, but I think the majority just do not use them. I understand though, sometimes I get quite tangled at night and want to rip it off, but then I remember my first night in Gulu getting eaten alive without a net and I keep myself covered. During the day we clear the floor for more room to move around, although children usually fill the space.

Actually no matter what time of day it is, many children are around. It always crosses my mind why so many children are not in school during the day? From talking to people in the camp I’ve found that most want to be in school but cannot afford it. In Uganda, primary education is offered to all for free. However, after primary education, secondary school is not free. Therefore, the majority cannot afford a higher education. There is such a want to go to school but just no way. Two days ago we met Moses.

Moses is 19 and has been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Both his parents have passed and he is therefore unable to continue his education. With no income in the camp, he is unable to support himself and no one is around to help. With only averaging below $100 Canadian dollars a year, it is hard to think that so many will miss out on an education. Moses is just one story but there are thousands with similar situations. Moses’ friend Richard is actually in school right now and is being sponsored by an Italian NGO, AVSI, for the first year. After that first year though, he is on his own. He enjoys the course so much but yet he has no income for the following two years. Richard will have to stop going to school. Moses and Richard are two people that represent so many.

I want to apologize for the delay in posting. Yesterday the internet was down all day in Kitgum town, so after much frustration, Ojibu gave up trying.

And now we’re off to roam through the camp. We’re meeting more and more people each day☺.

I hope all is well in Canada.

~Andrea

Hello all! Ojibu brought us some of your comments when he last uploaded in Kitgum and it is so great to hear from you and know that you are following this story. Keep them coming!

We realized that you do not know much about Padibe IDP camp, so in brief, here is some info: It is approximately 40 km south of the Sudan border and was once simply a trading post on the way to Sudan. With the war intensifying in 1996-1997, surrounding residents were forced to settle around the trading post for some semblance of security from the LRA. Instead of living in traditional homesteads, Acholi families were squeezed together with huts one right next to the other.

Some people returned to their homesteads in 1999, only to return once again to the camp in 2002 when fighting once again intensified. The population then swelled to some 40 000 people!!! Overcrowding, lack of basic necessities (water, food) due to an inability to leave the camp because of insecurity created dire health consequences. In 2005, the Ugandan health ministry estimated that some 1000 people per week were dying in the Northern camps due to the conditions. With a ceasefire in 2006, and an ability to leave the camp once again for access to food, the situation has greatly improved. Some people have returned home and the population is now at 25 000. However, with no peace treaty signed, and little assurance of continued security, much effort is needed to assure a proper and safe return.  I fear that this lull and return might mirror that which once happened in 1999. This is where you come in, please sign the petition linked in the blog so that camp life can finally cease to be a reality.

Even now, camp life is very difficult. Lack of privacy is disconcerting, and at times, for us anyways, pretty funny! Every morning, I saunter out of our hut, sleep in my eyes to brush my teeth + I am greeted by about 20 “Apwoyo Chos!” (Good Mornings!). Everything is public here and although it is amusing in our situation, I can only imagine the impact on traditional and family values.

Here is Andrea on her way to bathing. In addition to a children’s escort, she received a goat escort as well! Our bathing area is the black tarp structure in the left hand corner of the picture frame, located out in the open, amidst the huts. The ground is a hole filled with rocks (so the water can seep down) and there is a little shelf in the corner for our basin (pictured in Andrea’s hands- red!).

Our time here is very busy…between trying to learn to be good Acholi women, trying to survive and visiting everyone who wants to speak to us…our days are full!!

Yesterday, Grace visited us in the morning. She still lives in the camp because “a bad person” burned all the grass at her homestead, so she cannot return and build her huts. (We are trying to find out more about this…)We also met 3 older widows who cannot return because they do not have men to build the huts for them…and building huts is men’s work! Or Daniel, who has not left the camp because his homeland is far away and lacks a bore hole for water…

It is these stories that I am really interested in, and the quicker we are at learning survival basics, the more in depth stories we can relate about the problems in the camp and the problems with return. (we’re trying- it’s hard work!-survival is really taken for granted at home!!!)

On a totally wonderful and hopeful note, we attended a graduation party yesterday afternoon. Two girls had graduated from University in Kampala and a large part of the community showed up to pay them respect and to celebrate with them. I kept thinking how amazing it was that these girls were able to push through in a time of war and poverty and hunger, and achieve a higher education. I give them a ton of credit and wish them so well!!

o.k., we are off to visit some old friends who have left the camp. By the way, we met a man from MSF the other day and he confirmed that the Hepatitis E outbreak was abating- yay!

Speak to you soon, Lara

Settling In

July 4, 2008

Yesterday was our first day to go and fetch water, but when we started to take our two jerry cans to the tap our neighbours told us there was no water today. What?! We were caught a little off guard as we figured that water would come everyday at both 8am and 10am…or so we were told. We were mistaken. We wandered back to our hut trying to figure out what to do. As the water from the day before was already used up for drinking and food. While starting to worry a little, our neighbour Alma brought us one of her jerry cans full of water. That is how it works here, if your neighbour needs something you help, you share. So we had one full can for the day. Hmmm, what to use it for? We decided to boil more drinking water and save enough to make some food. Bathing and washing our clothes would have to wait. We prepared the fire and set the kettle on it to start boiling drinking water. All of a sudden women started running by our door with their jerry cans. The taps had started to run. We also got our cans, ran to the taps and stood in line to get water. (See video for our daily walk to the water taps)

This will be part our morning ritual everyday. We must, and everyone must, get water from the taps to survive. Oxfam has provided the water taps and there are staff to release the water once a day. The water does not last long though and this is why everyone was running. If they did not get the water at that time, then they would have to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow is too late, especially if you have a family at home. Each can is only 20 litres and we have been averaging a can and a half per day. Whereas a family of four would most likely need 3 cans. I asked someone what would happen if the taps were not there? He told me that the women would then have to walk to the bore holes outside of the camp and there would not be enough to provide for the whole camp. Many would be go thirsty.

In addition to water, our giranis (neighbours) have brought us so many different things to welcome us. In the last 24 hours we have received a jerry can full of water, a bundle of otigo (I would compare this to spinach at home), two mangoes, a few onions, a bundle of firewood, covers for our pots and this morning Alma brought us some ocra. We are slowly learning what we need to do to be good Acholi women, but it may take some time 🙂 Everyone around us has also helped us with starting our fires and chopping firewood. We give our neighbours quite the show when we try to chop firewood…we haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, but at least we can entertain people while learning.

Some more friends have also greeted us in the night. While visiting the toilet two night ago, we opened the door and there we about 30 cockroaches…I screamed and jumped out of the stall. I was not prepared for that. Lara and I had no other choice but to enter with them surrounding us. Although it might be gross for us, everyone else just keeps telling us ‘don’t worry, they will not bite you’. I would rather not have them around at all to be honest. We have dealt with it though, but each trip usually ends with me running out of the stall jumping up. Crazy munus…:)

~Andrea

Girani means neighbour

July 2, 2008

Hey all! First night in the camp last night…despite tossing all night to become..ahum..accustomed to sleeping on bamboo mats, the night went really well. The hut had been sprayed earlier in the day with DDT, so there was nary a mosquito in sight! The gunshots we heard at around 11pm were only from a hollywood sound track from the video cafe across the street! Lively local music did mostly drown it out + we were serenaded to sleep in our new home!

The morning started with the task of boiling water- but we didn’t yet get enough firewood…not to worry…2 of our girani (neighbours) promptly saw our situation and brought us some firewood!! When they were satisfied that we could indeed handle a fire on our own(!), they left us to tend to their own. This is Alma Aceng, one of our girani that has helped us.

We have been told that helping neighbours is naturally the Acholi way (the major tribe here in the north), and that actually, if it not for the Hepatitis E outbreak, we would not even want for food on our visit…o.k., so Hepatitis E-yikes…what’s that? We were warned by all the politicians and priests about Hepatitis E before we were given permission to live in the camp. It is a disease with no known cure that is caused by poor sanitary conditions, like those found in the camp. Although it can be fatal, it is easily preventable by eating food that is carefully prepared and still hot (like when we make it ourselves), by always washing your hands before eating and by taking care with drinking water (we are boiling ours!). So, don’t worry- we are all well briefed and are taking care. On a different beat, this does show how overcrowded camp conditions continue to threaten basic good health. Although the Padibe camp population is down to 25 000 from about 40 000 as many have started to return home, the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions are still a very serious problem.

o.k., we will have more stories soon…as soon as we master basic fire/boiling/cooking skills + can leave the hut long enough to visit around the camp! But not to worry, we are getting our fair share of visitors/girani/helpers who are looking forward to sharing with you too!

(p.s. On your Canada Day, it was “collect White Ant day” here! White ants are a delicacy that are only found twice a year, and while walking home last night, we came across many groups delightedly collecting the treat!!!)

Speak to you soon,

Lara

Home

July 1, 2008

We have arrived home…or what we will call home for the next 31 days. We are now in Padibe IDP Camp.

I’m not exactly sure where to start. The last 24 hours has gone by so fast and yet, so much has taken place. We have met so many kind people and have witnessed so many interesting things.

Late last evening we were welcomed by the Fathers of Padibe Catholic Mission. After driving and with some local politicians throughout the day, it was nice to finally rest. It then decided to rain throughout the night and it was very difficult to sleep. This could have been from the rain, or it could have been from my nervousness of finally moving into our new home today. I’m not entirely sure which one it was.

As we arrived late yesterday, moving into our new home was delayed until today. The first item to attend to was to meet with the Local Councillor (LC) to ask permission for our long stay in Padibe. As the Fathers explained to us last night, no one has ever done this before and it is always a good idea to get permission. The LC speaker welcomed us very kindly. After explaining our project, he announced, ‘from this point forward you are residents of Padibe!’. At that moment it really hit me that we are here and we are here to stay.

It seems that we have already acquired an entourage, as we are followed by groups of children no matter where we go. Throughout the camp you can hear the word ‘munu’ from every corner and from all directions. ‘Munu’ means ‘the white people'(not derogatory here-just from excitement).

Although we have only been roaming the camp for less than a day, many people have come to welcome, greet us and show us some of the ins and outs of camp life. Our friend Augustine has found us a hut (a very nice hut-see pic above) and our neighbours have already helped us start our first fire.

The rest of the evening will consist of finding firewood for boiling water, which we will need for drinking. I’m sure throughout the span of the night we will meet more of our friendly neighbours.

~Andrea

On the road to Padibe.

June 29, 2008

Phew! Arrived at Entebbe airport early Friday morning and had a nice long drive (6 hours on some of the worst roads I’ve seen in the world…although Cambodia in 2002 comes pretty close!) up to Gulu. We stayed in Gulu for the weekend, buying some basic supplies and making plans for July in Padibe IDP Camp. We head over there tomorrow through Kitgum! Padibe is less than 1 hour south of the Sudanese border. (Check it out on Google Earth- Padibe, Kitgum, Uganda).

 

Here are some decisions we have made about our time in Padibe:

FOOD + DRINK:We will eat 2 meals a day, will a total intake of 1200 calories. This is the amount defined by the World Food Programme (WFP) of a person’s minimum caloric intake.  It breaks down to 1.5 cups of rice + 1.5 cups of beans for 2 meals a day. Plus, a banana or sweet potato when they can be secured!

-We will fetch our own water and boil it sufficiently to sterilize it for our sensitive western systems.

SUPPLIES:We will bring 3 changes of clothes, soap (yup, the local blue kind!), ground mats to sleep on, pots, jerry cans, matches, bowls, basins for washing, a big spoon and a knife. Our luxuries include sunscreen, insect repellant, malaria pills, mosquito nets, toothpaste and toothbrushes and some toilet paper (just enough to ease into whatever the system is there…we’ll keep you posted!)

TECHNOLOGY: We will keep our equipment at the Church on the outskirts of camp where we can hopefully charge (they have a generator at night) and keep our blogs rolling. There is no electricity in the camp, and certainly no internet, so we will load our blog entries onto a USB key and get someone to run it into Kitgum (around 1 hour away) and upload our entries from an internet place there.

I think that’s all the set-up for now…it seems like things are organized, of course, as soon as we arrive, I’m sure that things will change. It seems like it is really difficult to prepare for a situation like this…but, geez, it’s not like we are being forced into the camp by the government’s armed forces, or fled to the camp after our family was murdered. And, it’s not like we will be spending years of our life there either. It is one month and a choice for us, and we have a heck of a lot more resources than anyone else living there.

We are both really excited to finally be on our way-it’s been a long time coming… So little news of what is going on in the camps reach us (and we make a point of staying informed!). So ready or not, here we go…

Speak to you all soon,

Lara

Good morning!…or should I say good afternoon? We have arrived in London and while sleeping on an airport bench into the early afternoon, I’m still on Canadian time and it’s early. So I’ll keep this short and for those of you that know me, that’s a challenge. However, I have realized already and this may be hard for some of you to believe, Lara is chattier than me:).

Let me start out by also introducing myself; my name is Andrea McKinlay and for the next month Lara and I will be venturing into Padibe IDP Camp together.

In 2005, I first heard about the situation in northern Uganda. However, the conflict had been taking place for almost 20 years at this time. I was curious then, as i am now, as to why I had not heard anything before? It seemed shocking that no one in my circle of friends had been informed. We watched the news and yet, not once did I recall hearing anything about northern Uganda. GuluWalk changed that.

It was at this time that I not only found out about the many ‘night commuters’ (children walking to urban areas to escape abduction), but I also found out about the numerous atrocities that were taking place throughout Acholiland and within the IDP camps. And as I dug deeper, I found out that this was not only taking place in northern Uganda, it was taking place worldwide. I was shocked again.

Over the next 3 years, I have continued to be shocked by the stories of IDPs. During on of my initial visits to an IDP camp in northern Uganda, I witnessed a fire break out. In seconds, there were many homes up in flames and the screams of people rang throughout the camp. At that moment I realized that the situation was worse than I could ever imagine.

While sitting outside Terminal 21 at Heathrow airport, the anticipation of entering the camp is buidling up. It seems like just a short time ago I was walking in Toronto, and now I am awaiting my flight to Entebbe. Before leaving home, my friends had so many question and I tried to answer them as best I could. But to be honest, I think I have more questions at this point. I will just have to wait and see what’s ahead.

I look forward to sharing our stories with you but most of all I look forward to sharing the stories of the many people in Padibe IDP Camp.

~Andrea

Hi- first of all, thanks for reading this blog.

O.k., an introduction to me: When I was in grade 3, we went on a school field trip to the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. To set the scene, I went to a Jewish day school. We were sitting in the stadium with our teacher, in awe of the large space that seats approximately 60 000 people. My teacher went on to say the following: fill and empty this stadium 100 times and then you will get an accurate picture of how many Jews perished in World War Two’s holocaust.

Needless to say, the trip to the swimming facilities and trampoline afterwards had lost some of its sense of play!

My maternal grandmother’s family were murdered in that holocaust, and I could never understand why people did not stop the slaughter, how they could not know…

Although I have lost a lot of my naivete over the years, I do feel nonetheless responsible to tell stories that people would otherwise ignore or simply be ignorant of. And I will use any medium available (photo, video, lectures, blogs etc…) to tell those stories. Change can only come with information that promotes awareness and dialogue.

I went to northern Uganda for the first time in 2004 and have since visited 3 more times. This trip will be my 5th. A lot has changed since 2004: a tentative cease-fire and peace talks, some resettlement of internally displaced people, almost no “night commuters”, less death…But still no peace, and no homes for the 1 million people still living in internal displacement camps (see “About” page). Why keep returning? Because there are women, men and children in northern Uganda that number 17 times the seats in the Olympic Stadium who are internally displaced, are very alive and need their stories to be heard.

And more globally, there are people that number 434 times the capacity of the Olympic Stadium who are internally displaced within their own countries as a result of conflict. (See “About” page, for what is an IDP?)

Despite my many trips to the north, I have never stayed in an IDP camp for an entire month. I have never lived the story in order to understand it and communicate it better. I figure it is the best way to get their stories out to you. If you feel like you would like to do something, please tell people about what you learn and visit the “Get Involved” page.

Am I scared? Well, there is always an element of the unknown…but look…straight up- I am only there for a month. I have the great fortune of coming in to “experience” IDP life and then leave back to my nice 1 bedroom apartment in Toronto. Any fear dissipates into the guilt and irony of benefiting from a system that places me in grad school in Canada, and the people I meet in an IDP camp amidst 22 years of war.

o.k., sorry I’m pretty heavy- but, in addition to all this, I am super excited to visit the friends I’ve made there and to see my friend Beatrice who just had a baby! (I’ll tell you more about her later when we meet again). I am also really looking forward to just spending time and seeing what is going on.

So, speak to you soon,

Lara

Check back soon- Andrea and Lara will be blogging live from Padibe IDP Camp, Northern Uganda.