Monday, March 20, 2017

A stark contrast

This week I traveled up to a small dusty, hot town in Northern Uganda called Adjumani with Helen and our girls. Both of us had work we needed to do up there, but not enough time to take separate trips, hence the decision to take Hope and Eva. It was a decision that I quickly regretted. Eva winged through the short flight and the moment we landed we all began to sweat profusely. The temperature was somewhere in the late thirties and our hotel turned off the generator at midnight, so off also went the fan. The girls simply couldn’t sleep, not having been in heat like this before, so of course Helen and I didn’t sleep either. I lay there feeling frustrated about all manner of things until morning. Then I had to go to work. Interestingly, by the end of the week I was glad we’d taken our girls with us. I think in a very small way it helped me to relate to what we saw.

On our first day I spoke to a young boy of perhaps 11 who said he and his siblings and mother had walked for 3 weeks to escape from South Sudan. That’s fairly typical. Many of the oldest and youngest are dying on the way from a lack of water, shelter and food. Internally, I feebly related that to my arduous hour-long flight. Self constructed, tarp-covered stick shelters are the accommodation option out there in the settlements. Blazingly hot in the day, less than rain-proof and small. As we walked through them I considered that their occupants were not camping, these were their homes for the foreseeable future. The war in South Sudan is showing no sign of letting up.

These refugees don’t have jobs to go to when they wake up in the morning. Helen pointed out to me a man lining up for food in one of the reception centers who would have been about the same age as my dad. As I tried to imagine what this would be like for him my mind balked. Most of these refugees were poor back in South Sudan but now they’re poorer. They have walked away from their land and houses and have had to leave behind the possessions they couldn’t carry. No prospect of self-sufficiency for a long time ahead for the man in the queue. Instead he has to put out his bowl and accept what is given. 

A mum that we interviewed had lost one of her children in the fighting. As she said it, I let the weight of that sentence sink in for a moment. What mother should have to lose a young child in some senseless war? What would my response be if one of my daughters were shot? No time to grieve for this lady, until she was an alien in a foreign country.

At our last location Quinn Neely who was doing some filming for us put up a drone to get some aerial footage of Palorinya refugee settlement. Looking at his screen as he filmed from a couple of hundred meters up gave an insight into the scale of this migration. Clusters of shelters stretching out for miles and miles along the banks of the Nile River. Each individual shelter holding a little family, but on the screen they were simplified down to thousands of tiny white dots. This one settlement currently holds 142,000 people and it opened 3 months ago, in December. Had the drone been able to climb higher, it would have picked up the 5 settlements of South Sudanese refugees spread out across Northern Uganda holding over three quarters of a million people. Still South Sudan’s leadership can’t sort their differences out and a bit north of where we stood about 2,000 more people

cross the border each day. My way of relating to that number is to think of my high school, Macleans College, daily walking into Uganda. This has been happening now for 9 months.

As we left, I understood more fully what an immense privilege that is. We can leave. These people are in Adjumani right now because they have, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond- 'no choice'. They cannot go home after a few days, and they have nowhere else to go. They have no idea if they’ll ever be able to go home. Home may well have been altered irreparably.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful house in Kampala with my family intact and safely with me. I have a job. I have choices. What stark inequality. I’ve worked in this space for a few years now, but this week I was hit anew by the gulf between the life of a refugee and mine.


An open diary - South Sudan March 14-18 2017

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Married at 13. Widowed at 25. Land grabbing survivor Julianna's story.

There’s this verse my late Grandmother used to share with me that I’ve still got memorised to this day. “The Lord tears down the proud person’s house. But he keeps the widow’s property safe” Proverbs 15:25. She was a widow, a widow for a very long time. And her property was a constant source of contention (even in a beautiful law abiding country like New Zealand). But on Widows Day earlier this year, I came into contact with IJM and watched this verse come to life.

The International Justice Mission is currently working in Uganda alongside local authorities to defend the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our world – the widows. For many women in Uganda, the loss of a husband is only the first trauma in a long term ordeal. Widows are often evicted from their homes and physically abused - some even killed by their husband’s family! There, a women’s social status is so inextricably linked to her husbands that she either has no rights or very limited rights to their property and often finds herself financially insecure and dependent on the charity of her husband’s relatives. Worse still, impunity for abuses of the rights of widows is rife, with few perpetrators every successfully brought to justice.

One thing we know about Jesus is that his heart is for the downcast, it’s for the grief stricken, for the excluded, for the invisible, for the widow. And as goes his heart, so goes IJM.

On June 23rd 2016, hundreds of people gathered in Mukono in Central Uganda to celebrate the rights of the widow and the achievements IJM has had thus far in protecting those rights.  A lot of progress has been made and the day was a chance to recognise the extraordinary efforts of the local authorities including the Police, Chief magistrate, RSA, RDC and others.  

The celebration began with an official 90 minute march led by a brass band and fronted by almost 100 government officials. Taking up the rear were hundreds of women, widows, children and men lending their voice and their support to defending the cause of the widow.  The theme of the event read loud and clear across the banners being held by those marching and the keynote speeches that rang out throughout the day. ““No woman should lose her status, livelihood or property when her husband dies. Widows need and deserve our support.”

After the event concluded I met an extraordinary women that brought the reason for the celebration to life. Meet Julianna. 

“My name is Julianna and I am 75 years old. I had an arranged marriage when I was 13 and he was 40 years old. Soon after I had five children to him. When I was 25, my husband went to visit his relatives in Congo. A few months after he left, two of his brothers came to my house to visit me. One of them was dressed in the clothes of my husband and told me that he had died. This land was all we had left. Fortunately, he had made a will that said nothing on this land could be sold, not even a coffee plant – all of it belonged to me and our children.  
Over the years all of my children died of HIV and various sicknesses and they are all buried here. I have one daughter left and four grandchildren. 

One day a young man came on a motorbike. He said he was my grandson and that he wanted a part of this land. He asked me to give him his portion. I had never met this man in my life and so I said no. Over many occasions he threatened me, intimidated me and made threats to my life and my land. He said that because I was a woman, I had no right to this home. I told him that this land is for my grandchildren and I kept insisting that he would not receive anything. One day he came and put all of his things in the kitchen. Another day, he came and started digging a foundation. When I told him to go away he picked up his panga and cut my hand as I blocked my head. I reported him to the police. 

One of my grandchildren later told me about IJM. Soon they came into my life and helped me in so many ways. They helped me go to court (where we won), encouraged me emotionally and gave me a guard to protect my land and house during my court case. They also helped me make a will. One day I hope to give my children and grandchildren this land.  I can sleep in peace now knowing that will happen. “

The perpetrator In Julianna’s case was sentenced to six years in prison. The longest sentence in any property grabbing case IJM has worked on in Uganda. IJM Uganda exists to defend the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups of people - the widow. 
Long may they continue.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The bravest woman I've ever met

Rosemary* inside her home in a refugee settlement in Uganda

I've been sitting at my computer screen trying so hard to think of some eloquent/meaningful/appropriate words to say to precursor this story and I just cant.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Our ridiculously late first update

A Tutapona staff member sits outside one of our offices in Nakivale Refugee Settlement
An update at long last.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How do your favourite clothes brands rank on worker welfare?

Garment Factory
Three years after the deadly garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that shocked the world, global brands are under increasing pressure to improve conditions for the millions of garment workers in developing countries who make the majority of the world's clothing.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

That flight, the first week and election antics...


Having been here a bit over a week, I thought we should get the blog ball rolling. 
Firstly, that flight. We enjoyed a pleasant, restful 40 hour voyage through the skies with our two quiet daughters. As we were getting worried that the trip was coming to an end, fortunately our last short flight was delayed by an hour to give us more time in the 'plush' Nairobi airport departures lounge. We arrived in Uganda at 10am, refreshed and glad we didn’t have to go to bed for another 10 hours or so.  Of course our fellow passengers might have a slightly different version of events. But we made it. And the girls did better than expected. It was their parents who struggled the most. 

Having only been gone for a year, life here feels very familiar. It’s nice to be back! We’ve really enjoyed seeing lots of our friends who are still around from 2014.
We met all the Tutapona staff at a two day training here in Kampala last week.
It was good to catch up with them again and get started with the work. There is a significant, exciting change coming up for Tutapona soon, more on that next time.

Hope has adjusted well overall, she slept in a 'big girls' bed for the first time yesterday and was quite pleased with herself. She regards Eva with some disdain for still being cot-bound.  Her biggest hurdle has been dogs. All of our friends have guard dogs and Hope is terrified by them. The other day she bravely tiptoed past one sleeping dog, only to come across a second further down the path. When she turned around, she discovered the first dog had followed her.  Dogs, dogs everywhere. She let out a scream of a rare quality. Neighbours' doors opened, pigeons flew up from nearby trees and my hearing was permanently damaged.  Despite this setback she is making progress and has even started stroking a dog in our compound.

It’s hotter here than I remembered but we’re getting used to it. All of us except Eva, who is constantly sweating. I think she is designed for cooler climes.

The general elections are a week away. Things seem reasonably calm at the moment. Although, yesterday I was out driving and came to a standstill as a big parade went past. Electioneering seems to consist of groups of young men on motorbikes performing stunts in front of crowds of onlookers blowing vuvuzelas. One guy was standing on the seat of his bike as it rolled down a hill, not touching the handlebars at all. I’m sure he will generate significant numbers of votes for his favourite candidate. Many people are stocking up on household essentials in case there is some unrest after the election result is announced and movement around the city becomes ill advised. 

Over and out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Back to #ugandababyuganda

In a few weeks we’ll be boarding a plane to Uganda for our third and longest stretch with our two daughters in tow, Hope who is a shade under two and Eva at 3 months. Needless to say we won’t be the most popular passengers on board...

This is not a decision we have come to lightly. It has been fantastic to be living so close to both sides of our family this last year. Hope has been spoiled as the first grandchild on the Buckley side and has loved spending time with her 9 cousins on the Manson side. We’ve just had a brand new baby and life is finally settling down after a tumultuous start to the year. Both of us are so grateful for our lives in New Zealand with very close friends, incredibly satisfying jobs and a lovely home.

A number of interwoven reasons.
In short, we both know our time in Uganda isn’t over yet and God seems to be confirming that.

As many of you know, when we moved to Uganda in early 2010 God surprised us with the gift of a daughter! Hope is now almost two years old and so on a purely practical ‘must –do’ level,  by heading back to Uganda we are hoping to complete the full adoption process and then proceed to applying for New Zealand citizenship for her. It is important to us (and to NZ immigration) to obey the adoption laws of Uganda. This process is a challenging and complex one but we are committed to our daughter and committed to seeing it through.

The other reason we are heading back to Uganda is on a slightly deeper level - to continue our working relationship with Tutapona. In 2014 we both volunteered for Tutapona. After seeing their work first hand we feel very motivated to be involved again – this time in a more formal capacity.


This time we’ll be based in Uganda’s capital city (Kampala) instead of the smaller city of Mbarara where we lived in 2014.

Tim will be working to support and manage Tutapona’s staff as they bring trauma counselling services to refugees at various sites around the country. Helen will be coming off maternity leave and assisting Tutapona with their marketing needs as well as conitnuing to workwith her beloved Tearfund/Compassion as a Communications contractor.


Two years at this stage.
We’ll endeavour to keep you updated through this blog.
Here’s to the best plane ride ever.

Tim, Helen, Hope, Eva 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Behind the Scenes...

Recently I had the privilege of travelling with Tutapona up into North Uganda on the border of South Sudan. There, Tutapona is working alongside the UN, LWF and Samaritans Purse to bring healing and hope to the 92,000 refugees that currently call the camp home. When the war in South Sudan broke out in early December 2013 thousands fled to Adjumani. Tim and I arrived there about a month after the conflict had erupted and walked into a scene that looked like the movie Blood Diamond. Almost one year on, I went back to see how things have progressed and to hear the testimonies of those receiving trauma counselling. This is what I saw this time around.

Adjumani Food Gathering area BEFORE
Adjumani Food Gathering area AFTER

Arrival area BEFORE
Arrival area AFTER
Adjumani Reception Center BEFORE
Adjumani Reception Center AFTER

South Sudanese refugees listen to the Tutapona staff running 'Empower'  - a trauma counselling program for victims of war

South Sudanese refugees listen to the Tutapona staff running 'Empower'  - a trauma counselling program for victims of war
"My name is Sophie and I don’t know how old I am. I think I am around 60 or 70. I am from South Sudan. I’ve seen a lot in my life. I have lived through two wars, I’ve seen people been killed solely based on their ethnic background, I’ve seen people starving and crying every day. Hunger, sickness and the effects of war on children with no parents.

 Our livelihood was based on cows and I had cattle.  It was a good life for me as I could cultivate using my hands. However this was all taken by the bandits and raiders after they shot me in late 2013. My husband was also killed in 2012 from the rebels when they came to our village. This hurt me deeply as I no longer had anybody near me.
After I was shot I moved onto my knees and went into a hiding place in the bush. It was disturbing to see a lot of people on the ground and people so confused by what had just happened. I had three children at that time but one died.  I moved to this refugee settlement in March 2014.

For me, trauma is a past event like the death of your husband or children. Personally I thought about  suicide but that lessened after Tutapona came. What Tutapona is doing for us is helping us to have emotional strength and to be able to forgive those who hurt us. I have allowed in my heart to forgive those that hurt me. The program started by asking our personal stories, then after that it went on to tell us what is trauma and then they taught us different ways of overcoming it.  The Tutapona team taught us is it best to divert attention by doing things like playing cards with friends. It is a worthy program. If there is a way to support this program, I advocate for it to be supported to reach more people.

Since Tutapona came to us I’ve noticed a difference. We were so depressed and we felt so heavy. Personally after the program I felt light and free. Before the program I was feeling lonely, and after that I felt comforted. Too many people like me exist and they need the same help. If the Tutapona team can come back a lot of people are still in need of that. I would like to tell the people of the world to extend their hand to those that are suffering. 

You can donate to the work that Tutapona does by visiting
A $50 donation will enable someone like Sophie to go through a trauma counselling course.

Helen xo