Nothing could have prepared me for the shocking reality facing refugees living in Akula camp, on the border of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Walking into Akula I was immediately aware that the refugees living there had next to nothing. It was extremely hot, dry and dusty and their homes were made from torn UNHCR tents and anything they could find. There were no toilets and the smell of faeces was overbearing.
I coordinate the Christmas Bowl appeal at Act for Peace. Akula is the location of one of Act for Peace’s international programs and is the focus of the upcoming Christmas Bowl appeal.
After decades of conflict in surrounding countries, Ethiopia is now host to more refugees than any other country in Africa. And as one of the world’s poorest countries, they are struggling to cope. Akula camp is home to South Sudanese refugees who’ve fled ongoing civil war to find a better life for their families. One of the largest problems facing refugees in Akula is a lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.
There are no toilets in Akula and just one working water pump. People are forced to go to the toilet out in the open. The lack of water means that there is no way for people to wash their hands and deadly diseases are spreading rapidly.
I was moved by the courage and determination of a young mother called Kama. Kama grew up in a small, peaceful, farming community in South Sudan. She has a beautiful daughter, one-year old Nyadak, and is pregnant with her second child. But a few months ago, soldiers came to Kama’s village.
Kama only just escaped alive, grabbing her daughter and hiding in the bush as the soldiers burnt the houses and crops and killed many of her friends and family. She fled to Ethiopia all alone, desperate to keep her daughter and her unborn baby safe.
When she arrived in Akula she was forced to face yet another danger – dirty water and disease. Baby Nyadak and pregnant mothers like Kama are at the highest risk of dying from diseases such as hepatitis. She explained to me how terrified she was that she and her daughter would get sick and die, as have so many others in the camp.
Kama had arrived at the camp with nothing – not even a container to carry water from the far-away pump. Luckily, Kama was given a jerry-can to carry water, and soap to keep her family clean to prevent contamination from deadly diseases. This meant that she was able to carry clean water from the pump.
Such a small gift kept mother and daughter safe from deadly water-borne diseases. I will never forget how grateful she was for something as simple as a jerry-can.
I’ll also never forget Mr Merga, who I met in Akula camp. He’s a gentle man who works tirelessly for Act for Peace’s local partner there. He told me: “God asked us to help those in need, it is our Christian duty. It’s tragic that they have had to abandon their lives and flee their homes. With your help, I am trying to support them when they arrive.”
Mr Merga is dedicated to ensuring that no one in his community will die from a preventable disease. He works hard each and every day repairing water pumps, building toilets, distributing soap and training people in good hygiene.
Meeting refugees like Kama and spending time with dedicated staff like Mr Merga is an experience I will never forget. What stayed with me the most was how little it takes to fix the problems they face and give them a chance at a safe and dignified life. The solution is as simple as clean water, soap and toilets.
I hope sharing the stories of just some of the amazing people I met will encourage others to once again be involved in the Christmas Bowl appeal.
You can give to the appeal, find out more or order a church fundraising kit with worship resources, by visiting www.actforpeace.org.au/christmasbowl or calling 1800 025 101.
“Love is at the heart of the Christian faith. The Christmas Bowl is a bowl of love, at the centre of our gatherings in homes and communities. May I encourage all my sisters and brothers to participate in this year’s Christmas Bowl, and to reflect in your families and communities on the nations and peoples whose lives are touched by the ‘bowl of love.’ Shalom.”- Stuart McMillan President, the Uniting Church in Australia
Your gifts changed lives last Christmas Bowl
Act for Peace has some exciting news to share with you about Than, whose story we told you last Christmas Bowl in Crosslight. Than and his family were living in Mae La camp on the Thai-Burma border as refugees, relying on food rations to survive.
Now that is all about to change because Than and his family have been granted asylum in the United States of America. They will be moving later this year, and leaving the life they know. Than’s children have spent their entire lives in a refugee camp, and Than has lived there for more than 21 years.
“Life for my sons Aung and Bo will be much better in the US. I am so excited that in the US they will be able to get a good education and make a better life.”
Join us in wishing every success for Than and his family in their new life. Last year Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania raised more than $522,000 to support Burmese refugees including Than – Thank you.