I don’t know where to start. I wish I had taken my wife. Who am I without my school certificates? These three remarks by refugees, scribbled into notebooks by The Niles correspondents, support the Sudanese proverb that ‘experience is a solid walking stick’. War, hunger and poverty have repeatedly forced both Sudanese and South Sudanese to flee their homes. Right now more than 4.5 million people are on the road in the two countries, like these passengers on a bus from Khartoum to Shendi. The fifth edition of The Niles documents their journeys, following their routes to neighbouring villages, fast-expanding cities or the other side of the globe, revealing diverse experiences with a recurring theme: When you leave home, the familiar is lost but the essential remains.
15 * km How far A group of child refugees from the Boroli refugee camp in northern Uganda on their daily hike to primary school. would you go? Distances people are forced to travel. theniles_enar_20150327.indd 6 2015/3/31 1:50 PM
The Niles 7 > Departure: Boroli refugee camp, Uganda > Arrival: Nearest primary school > Distance: 15km Ismail Abdul Karim spends his days carrying containers of water around Khartoum to sell. 0km Yet another trauma 10 More than 130,000 South Sudanese have fled to Uganda since conflict broke out in December 2013, among them Akot Rachael, who fled to the Boroli refugee camp. She treks 15 kilometres to and from school every day and we joined her on her journey. By Esther Muwombi W alking barefoot across tufty undergrowth, Akot Rachael is among a group of child refugees from the Boroli refugee camp in northern Uganda who trek 15 kilometres to the nearest primary school every day, chatting loudly despite their arduous journey. “Sometimes I am so weak I have to take several stops under the trees along my way home,” she says. “I can’t afford breakfast and our home lunch is served while I am away at school. I starve until I return in the evening.” Uganda, which has hosted South Sudanese refugees for decades, recently ruled that refugee children should attend public schools alongside Ugandan pupils instead of being taught in the camps. That has made life even tougher for the youngest refugees, who now have to hike several hours every day. The decision affects Akot and all the other children from families who have sought refuge in Uganda since December 2013, when troops loyal to President Salva Kiir clashed with rebels, sparking an ongoing conflict in many parts of the country, which is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people. Many have fled their homes, including more than 130,000 South Sudanese who crossed the border to Uganda. Akon Dorcus says she can’t send her six-year-old daughter to school anymore because of the distance. “My daughter had been studying back in Bentiu (in South Sudan) but there is no way she can walk this distance to school. Her legs are too little and weak. Now she’s missing out.” Deng Adut, a worker at a World Vision early child development centre at the Nyumanzi refugee camp, some 40 minutes away from the Boroli camp, says the long school journey piled pressure on the young children. “Many of the children we look after have been traumatised by the violence they ran away from. They need to be treated tenderly. Having them walk very far to school is just another trauma.” According to Ugandan government regulations, schools should be no more than five kilometres away, but in some areas this is an impossible target. Long distances are not the only problem the refugee children face at school. Many lack food and basic materials like school books, and conditions are often cramped. About 3,000 students study at Boroli primary school, for example, which only has 20 classrooms, forcing many students to study outside sitting under trees. Meanwhile, children who have been taught in Arabic in South Sudan find it hard to adjust to lessons in Ugandan schools, which are taught solely in English. The government has enrolled some refugee teachers to help the children integrate into their new learning environment. But these teachers are paid by the UNHCR in foreign currency, sparking complaints from local teachers demanding the same terms. “Ugandan teachers are complaining because the government delays paying them their salaries. Those of us who are paid by the UNHCR get all our incentives and salaries on time,” says Okello John, a refugee who teaches at the school. Some of the refugee children continue their education against the odds, but others have given up and try to earn money instead. “I pray to go back home,” says Deng Ayok, who mends shoes at the camp instead of attending school. “There is no good life in the camp, especially for us children.” > Departure: around Khartoum, Sudan > Arrival: - > Distance: 20km per day “I’m a pedlar” Ismail Abdul Karim is constantly on the move, roaming neighbourhoods selling water to support his two wives and nine children. By Adam Abkar Ali When did you start doing this job? In 1976. In the past, this job used to be better, you could even save some money. Nowadays the money I earn is not enough to make a decent living. The money I make per day is only enough to eat and drink. When does your shift start and end? I work from dawn to dusk. These days, selling water is limited as most people have water taps in their homes. Business is better during the summer. What are the best places to sell water? I’m a pedlar. There is no “best place”, but I usually roam near slums, teashops and stores. Most houses in the neighbourhoods now have water pipes and no longer need to buy water except when the water is cut off. When that happens we bring in water from distant places. Was water scarce when you started out? Yes, we used to carry water from Al-Jarif and sometimes Ed Babiker, both about ten kilometres from El-Haj Yousif. Now I have to walk 15 to 20 kilometres a day to sell enough to get the food I need. Water sources are closer by than before, but demand is lower, meaning I have to walk further to find customers. What do you like about your work? Nothing – but I have to put up with it to support my family. 20 km What do you most dislike? It is a tiresome job and earnings are low. But working is better than doing nothing and I know this work well. How do people view your job – both today and in the past? In the past, people used to treat us with good manners, appreciation and mutual respect, but now their attitudes have changed because most people have water taps at home and they look down on us. What are your favourite memories of being at work? In the past, a group of pedlars would gather and share money to buy a sheep. We would chat with each other like we were family. These days we are scattered and each individual keeps to himself. How is your work regulated? We used to have committees in charge of organising our work. Yellow was the prescribed colour for water drums. But recently a group of thieves changed the colour from yellow to green and charged us 80 Sudanese pounds (US$13) without any kind of organisation involved. We had no choice but to pay. * all distances are approximate 30 40 50 theniles_enar_20150327.indd 7 2015/3/31 1:50 PM