Refugees are always thought to be in dire need. They are looked up on as most needy and vulnerable people of any given place and time. But it need not be so! Refugees can be people of talent and are able to contribute to the welfare of their fellow refugees and even to the those who hosts them and care for them.
This is often evident in Salesians of Don Bosco Refugees Project in Palabek, northern Uganda. The Palabek Refugee Settlement houses at least 56,000 refugees from South Sudan. Among them the Salesians are in regular contact with at least 6,000 refugees through pastoral activities, skills training, youth activities, nursery schools, feeding programme and other community interaction. Our services are extended to the local community as well.
Salesian missionaries are much appreciated by not only the refugees, but also UNHCR, Office of the Prime Minister (OPM)—Government of Uganda and other agencies. This encourages us to do more for refugees and the local community members. We are often the first responders in many emergencies and need.
Given to this state of affairs, now we are faced with the threat of Coronavirus which needs consolidated effort of all in meeting urgency and with firm action. Because, if this epidemic enters a refugee settlement, it can be a great disaster. The camp authorities have recognized Don Bosco as the first organization to give a positive response to COVID 19. Our small initiative of making face-masks, hand sanitizers, liquid soap, and hand-washing cans for community use was found to be timely and much needed.
We found that the face-masks sold in the market cost about 1.50 $ and they are of poor quality and not durable or re-usable. It is too expensive for the refugees and the local community to buy them. As the Lockdown is in action, it is also difficult for everyone to access them.
So, Don Bosco priests found a way of making them locally. We bought rolls of cotton cloth, rolls of elastic straps and necessary threads to make our own. For the production of one face-mask, the materials used cost not more than Uganda Shillings 2,000 (less than half a US $). This also includes a small labour charge/wage we give it to the refugee trainees. They too are more than happy to receive a monetary assistance.
To make a Refugee—Person of Concern (PoC) useful and a contributor to the society is a great moral boost and a big psychosocial support. We have helped at least 12 families with some financial assistance. For each mask a trainee receives a small token of Uganda Shilling 500. At the end of the day they are able to make more than three dollars a day, besides meals.
Thus, our tailoring department of Don Bosco Vocational Training Center with the guidance of Fr. Jeffrey, the Principal innovatively ventured into the project. In two weeks, they have made about 1500 masks most of which are already distributed. Seeing the innovation of the Salesians, NGOs such as AVSI and CESVI want to partnership with us and take charge of their distribution. We are happy to work with them. We are proud to see the nurses, police, soldiers and others wearing our masks. All distributed free of charge.
We are particularly grateful to our service partner Don Bosco Jugendhilfe Weltweit (JuWe) for their support in this COVID 19 Response through our WASH programme.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB