Inactivity for youth is a mental and physical torture. Keeping young people with little to do or keeping them away from their favorite activities such as sports, games, hobby and leisure is to castigate them. But young people can be very generous even at the times of difficult situations and privation. Salesians believe in the saying, “Ask the young for little, they give you nothing; ask the young for more, they smile and give you everything.”
Here in Palabek Refugee Settlement Camp, in northern Uganda young people find joy and solace among the Salesians and they find their life meaningful even living in hard conditions of a refugee camp. They are deprived of decent education, leisure activities and basic needs such as food and clothing. Interacting with the Salesian Missionaries and taking part in the youth activities keep them occupied and even helps them in developing their talents. Surely during the time they spent in our youth centers, however limited it is they are very happy and contended.
Coronavirus induced Lockdown has caused immense trials for refugee youth. Refugee Settlements and Camps are normally highly populated by young people even up to 80%. Refugee Settlements are filled with teenagers and in particular young girls. The normal refugee setting for young people is characterized by basic needs not met, education and training in jeopardy, separation from parents and loved ones and aggravated frequent abuses… they are often in precarious situations. Now redundancy caused by the Lockdown causes emotional and psychological stress. They are aggravated by reduced food, inactivity due to the closure of schools, youth centers and churches and inability to move.
Putting themselves in their shoes, the Salesians began to be creative in keeping them busy through income generation activities and improving the little facilities we have. We reached out to youth through our number of youth centers and our Vocational Training Center. Some of the activities the youth are involved are: agriculture activities in our chapels and other community lands, planting grass in our playgrounds, recording songs and videos on COVID 19 epidemic, helping in the construction of fence in our school, and other activities such as cleaning and reaching out to the community. But these activities are done keeping in mind safety procedures of the epidemic.
Through these activities young people stayed connected to the Salesians and their fellow youth, which is very important for overcoming stress and disillusionment. They were made to realize their ability to contribute to the society even in the time of difficulties; even in hard times their talents such as music, technological skills and leadership abilities were put into community development. And finally young people were able to receive a small stipend for their work that helps them to meet some urgent needs.
Seeing their initial success in various activities they are planning to do more. Youth are interested in recording more songs, enlarging their agriculture productivity, plant more trees and involve in other group activities such as group counselling, participate in peace process to overcome recent violence within the refugee settlement.
These activities were made possible through the help of Trocaire, Ireland/Irish Embassy who funded the recording of songs and other community campaign against Corona infection; CESVI facilitated with large quantity of seeds and seedlings; Misen Cara, Ireland assisted in youth activities, and our own Mission Offices assisted us in improving livelihood activities in our Vocational Training Center and in various zones of the Settlement. A big thanks to them as well as to our own youth and their guide, Fr. Roger Mbayo SDB.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB – Director, Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services.These above programmes began in April 2020 and we hope to continue them until the COVID 19 lockdown is relaxed. Many of our agriculture programmes will go on during the current rainy season.