Uganda is still one the biggest refugee-hosting countries in Africa, with over a million refugees, mostly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and Somalia. At the end of April 2022, the registered refugee and asylum seeker population stood at 1,553,063. Refugees alone are 1,508,827 of which 24% are the youth (UNHCR Uganda 2022).
Aware of the ever increasing challenges and the influx of the refugees in the Ecclesiastical Province of Gulu, especially in the Dioceses of Arua and Nebbi, the Youth Ministry focused on the holistic pastoral care which includes the mind, body and soul in order to address the physical, social and spiritual challenges of the refugee youth, carrying out the following activities:
Leadership training for the refugee youth and animators
Training workshops were organised in Lodonga and in the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement. This has led to:
– The initiation of Youth Movements and Associations such as Young Christian Students (YCS), Legion of Mary and the Choir to deepen the faith of the young people and their communities.
– The formation of Youth Chaplaincy Teams coordinated by the SVD Missionary Priests, SSPS Missionary Sisters and the Catechists to offer on-going formation and to accompany the youth in their journey of faith.
Promotion and implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis “Christus Vivit” in the refugee settlements
Promotion of the Campaign of Pope Francis “the Elderly are our Grandparents”
In 2020, Zombo District became a new home of about 2,000 acres created to settle over 4,000 new refugees from the DRC after the 14 days of quarantine from COVID-19. It was opened on 2 July 2020. The Congolese nationals, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, youth and children, were allowed into the country on humanitarian grounds after they stayed for months in the Zeu forest without access to relief food and other basic needs. During the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021, as part of the National Charity Week to mark the event, the Diocesan Youth Office of Nebbi in collaboration with the National Youth Office organised a Health Camp for the elderly within the host communities. This was coordinated by Sr. Jane Francis Munduru from Mulango Referral Hospital, Kampala and Dr. Warom Innocent from Nyapea Hospital – Zombo District.
Youth meetings and retreats
Sharing testimonies is a very good therapy especially for child headed refugee families who are traumatised by the loss of their beloved parents on the way to these safe spaces called refugee settlements.
Youth radio programs (“Youth Hour”) on Catholic Radios
Social inclusion of the refugee youth through radios and other youth media platforms is efficient not only to inform the youth, but can also be used in creating awareness on many social issues and the needs of the youth.
Youth Talent Show (Games and Sports / Music Dance and Drama)
This has been used as an avenue to promote the documents of Pope Francis such as “Christus Vivit” and “Fratelli Tutti” and also to sensitize the young people in the settlements on topical issues affecting them such as diseases (HIV/AIDS, Coronavirus), drug abuse, alcoholism, early marriages and premarital sex.
During the visits, activities such as youth dialogue, debates, catechesis and games are carried out to strengthen relations between the refugee youth and the host communities. We also offer psychosocial support through inspirational talks by the host community youth leaders and reality talk by the refugee youth.
Training in skills
In collaboration with Gulu Ecclesiastical Province Youth Apostolate (GANAL), the National Youth Office trained the refugee youth and the host communities in kitchen gardening (growing of vegetables in bags/sacks and tins), mats, and craft hand bags. Most of the vegetables are for family consumption, meanwhile the Youth Offices look for markets for other products such as craft bags, belts, shoes and earrings. This has become income generating projects for the refugee youth.
In partnership with Caritas Uganda (Norway partnership), the refugee youth of Bidibidi Settlement Zone II have been trained in the following areas:
– Promoting Food Security through use of Labour Saving Technologies & Good Agronomic Practice skills.
– Empowering young girls in shoe making for self-reliance.
– Skilling young Women in Bar & Liquid soap making for economic inclusion.
Youth Action Campaigns
These are awareness raising campaigns spearheaded by the young people to increase public awareness on the pastoral care for the refugee youth and other topical issues such as health/hygiene, false prophets, school strikes, protection of Mother Earth by promoting the encyclical “Laudato Si” through planting trees within the settlements and the host communities. The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) together with the local authorities negotiates with the host communities to secure land within the refugee settlement for tree planting.
Participation in Youth Conferences
Derived from the World Youth Day, the Catholic Church in Uganda celebrates the youth days annually at parish, sub-parish, deanery, diocese and national levels. The refugee youth participate in these celebrations mostly at parish and diocesan levels. Meanwhile their representatives participate at the national level. The Youth Day offers young people a vivid experience of faith and communion, which helps them to face the profound questions of life and to responsibly assume their place in society and in the ecclesial communities. The principal objective of the celebration is to make the person of Jesus the centre of the faith and life of every young person so that He may be their constant point of reference. These youth conferences have contributed to the faith journey of the youth, promoted active participation in the youth ministry through “Youth to Youth or peer to peer evangelization” and promoted the spirit of friendship in the refugee settlements and within the Youth Apostolate.
Other activities implemented include: Youth pilgrimages to the shrines of the Ugandan Martyrs and historical sites of faith; charity week in support of the refugees; peace building and reconciliation with the host communities – community and religious leaders are involved because in cases of violence it’s always the youth who participate and are manipulated by the elders.
The National Youth Office of Uganda Episcopal Conference is indebted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Sisters of St. Peter Claver in Dublin for the financial contribution towards our program on the Pastoral Care for the refugee youth at national, provincial and diocesan levels. We appreciate the synergy of the Migrants and Refugees Section with the Dicastery of the Laity and Family Life in collaborating with the Youth Apostolate as we journey together to promote the inclusion of migrants and the refugees in building our society and community. To the Uganda Episcopal Conference and friends of the youth, we are very grateful for their tireless support and guidance.
National Youth Coordinator of Uganda Episcopal Conference