Drastic events and situations need drastic responses. COVID 19 has created drastic situations in the world. It dawned upon the world unexpectedly and has brought in unexpected consequences. We find our world no more the same—people have lost their jobs and livelihood, their properties and securities, their education and career, their loved ones and their future. Everyone, the big, the small and even the little ones have been challenged. These situations also create timely heroes who bring in drastic solutions. One such hero is Fr. Roger Mukadi Mbayo, a young Salesian priest from Democratic Republic of Congo.
When it has been a difficult moment for the grownups and the better offs, it is all the more difficult for the little ones and the poor. A group of five daring Salesians, Fr. Roger being the youngest among them, lives in Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda sharing the life struggles of over 54,000 refugees from South Sudan. With minimum facilities for education, medical care, basic security and leisure life has been difficult. These sojourners have to be satisfied with a meager ration of food consisting of maize flour and beans, eaten all the days of weeks and months. Now Coronavirus epidemic and its consequent lockdown brought for the refugees’ untold troubles. Perhaps those who suffered more are children and teenage youth. Now the current scourge seems to be innumerable teenage pregnancies which calls for well-thought-out pastoral action.
Refugee camps or Settlements in Africa are overwhelmed by children who often form over 80% of the refugee population. Given these statistics Palabek Refugee Settlement houses at least 25,000 children who are below the age of 13. They are often underfed, suffer malnutrition, and lack basic security and protection. Now during COVID 19 Lockdown their schools, though they were much improvised, now they are closed. Having no entertainment and opportunity to meet friends they are pushed to stress which they could not articulate.
Knowing their plight, Salesians began to reach out to them through youth friendly and educative activities, but still kept COVID 19 guidelines to protect their health. Salesians reached out to over 400 children and young people on a daily basis. Some of the activities were even geared to income generation and putting up structures for future use. Young people planted grass in playfields, planted hundreds of trees, prepared kitchen gardens, recorded songs and videos for Coronavirus awareness, took part in road drives on coronavirus education, revised their lessons, took part in indoor games, drawing and painting, exchanged library books, and visited some friends who were sick and in particular lockdown situation.
All these activities were coordinated by Fr. Roger who was already a hero among the youth and now we shined as COVID Hero. During these days of Lockdown, he was surrounded by young people who clung to his thoughts and programmes. They were as small as 5-year-old nursery kids and as big as young adults of 22-year-old artisans. His typical day started at 9.00 am after prayer and breakfast and went on until 7.00 pm when he went for prayer and supper. He is assisted by a Religious Sister and a group of vibrant youth leaders.
Young people after a heavy day of work in the fields occasionally shared a sumptuous meal of rice, meat and chicken that provided much relief from their routine maize and beans. They too had exacting moments of doing rehearsal for song and video recording. This gave them a unique opportunity to develop their talents and made them proud when they heard them in the local radios and media centers.
Fr. Roger hails from Democratic Republic of Congo. Having ordained a priest in 2018, being the Youth Animator in Palabek mission is his first assignment. In the coming months and years, he extends his service as the Principal of Don Bosco Vocational Training Center. Day after day he looks forward to seeing young people happy and ‘Rebuilding Lives’, which is an inviting motto of Salesian Refugee Services in Palabek.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB – The Director.