When Isis-linked rebels from Congo attacked a school in a border district of Uganda last June, a great deal of fear was stirred up in Nakivale. A number of the families involved with a Better World 4 Kids had relatives among the 41 killed in the attack. The rebels appear to be the same group who had been kidnapping children and trying to get refugees to move back home. People said that the rebels were unhappy with their lack of success in getting people to return to Congo, and the attack was an attempt to intimidate the refugees.
People were certainly fearful. Some Ugandan officials became reluctant to work near the border. They wanted to move refugee settlements away from the area, but the government opted instead to maximize the deployment of border police.
The attack came at a bad time. The same floods that made travel to and from school so hazardous had washed away a great deal of the seed planted in the families’ garden plots. With the local growing season disrupted by a changing climate, families were faced with even larger food shortages as the war in Ukraine meant a big drop in food imports. At this same time, the UN humanitarian food aid delivered to Uganda was reduced by a third due in part to political issues between the government of Uganda and the US, which normally provides 60 to 80% of UN aid. The number of humanitarian aid workers in Nakivale was reduced from 25 to 2. Furthermore, conflicts in the Middle East increased gas prices, which meant higher food prices caused by rising transportation costs. The increased food costs, combined with the huge number of children attending the story-telling sessions, made it impossible for a Better World 4 Kids to continue providing meals for the children.
In Nakivale, all of this translated quite simply into widespread hunger. A couple of families decided to take their chances and return to Congo where UN aid packages were more generous. Some went to Burundi for a better food package in a safer environment. Others went to Kenya, but they were refused at the border and sent back.
The refugees received no explanations for these drastic aid cuts, and people became angry. The settlement saw an increase in theft and suicides. Children engaged more in unruly behavior, school attendance dropped, and child labor increased as people tried to muster all their resources to feed their families.
A Better World 4 Kids worked hard to share information with the families about increased security enforcement and about the causes of the food shortage, while engaging the children in psycho-social support activities to help them deal with their fears. The children continued to come to the story-telling sessions, but they were hungry and had little energy. When Daniel saw children chewing on the stems of corn, he used his own money to purchase sugar cane for them. When the children reported trouble sleeping due to hunger, the program staff encouraged them to practice breathing exercises and Focusing, and the children said that this helped them fall asleep.
Despite so many difficulties, there are bright spots. At a meeting to gather feedback from the families and staff and community, Daniel could see that the Better World 4 Kids program is quickly becoming an important part of the community.