It was chaos! Relationships were strained. Tribalism, blame games and pure hate marred the air. The violence they had experienced when the war broke out back in South Sudan found ground in the Uganda, where they now sought sanctuary. Refugees like Nicholas Deng living in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement remember that it was so bad that it started to feel unsafe.
Then it gradually changed.
“All I can say is that Windle International Uganda came in and helped us,” the 27-year-old Deng says. “In fact, if it were not for Windle, then there wouldn’t be co-existence in this place.” He recalls the time he just arrived in the settlement in 2016; the hatred between the Nuer and Dinka tribes of South Sudan living in the settlement escalated each day.
“The two tribes blamed one another for causing the war back home and forcing us to be refugees,” he recalls. “This was not just in our homes, even in schools, there was violence between learners from these two tribes.” It didn’t help that the young people had just experienced bloodshed back in South Sudan and were living in the trauma of it all.
He recalls that Windle International Uganda started by identifying ambassadors of peace to champion the cause for things to change. After that, they found interesting ways of bringing people together in the spirit of community. With support from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, they constructed a youth Community Technology Access centre (CTA). It is buzzing with activities like computer lessons, playing games (field and board games) and Music Dance and Drama. This entire process began a new chapter that Deng describes as the peaceful phase.
Peace at last
“The main reason I play football is to find a way to preach peace and unity,” he says. “Putting different tribes in one team for example, helps them to discuss and become friends.” He said that when he started to see the change among the cheering crowds, he knew they were on the right path. “You would see a Nuer cheering a Dinka because they were from the same team,” he laughs. “This was wonderful to watch!”
That was also not enough because some individuals with unresolved issues sometimes fought their way to the playfields. “There are rules; if you want to fight, you will be disqualified!” he exclaims. “The players understand that, the people cheering equally know that whenever there is chaos, the game is interrupted, so they behave.”
Windle International Uganda provided all that is needed to play different games through their youth centre, which is often awash with young and enthusiastic people. “This place is always full of young people, and unlike before, they are too busy to engage in unnecessary fights,” Deng observes.
Slowly, the community has shifted from violence to communication whenever misunderstandings arise; nothing is left to escalate to the point that it breeds violence. “But also, then there is no time to waste; between the income generating activities, sports and school, idleness is impossible,” he adds.
It is important to note that all the areas that Deng just listed above are special projects that Windle International Uganda is delivering for the people of Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement.