Yambio, 16 November 2015 – My story with refugees dates back to 2004, when I joined the Jesuit Refugee Service in Adjumani, northern Uganda to support the then-Sudanese refugees who fled the long historic civil war. This experience turned out to be the biggest risk, but also the most significant turning point in my life.
During this time, northern Uganda was facing its own insecurity due to the heavy infiltration of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army's (LRA). Even the most basic tasks – like conducting meetings or visiting refugees – made us highly susceptible to encountering rebel attacks. One time while en-route to meet a refugee family in a nearby camp we learned they had been attacked by rebels the previous night. We turned around, our mission unaccomplished.
However, as time went on our mission to spread education was fulfilled – after 16 years in northern Uganda JRS educated 30,000 South Sudanese students in exile in more than 30 nursery, 40 primary and five secondary schools as well as in special tertiary and peace education programmes.
Five years after establishing myself in northern Uganda I moved to the newest country in the world – South Sudan – to help former refugees who lived in Uganda, Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo return home. In Yambio, South Sudan I have been part of a JRS team which nourishes – both literally and figuratively - its mission of accompaniment by providing education which nourishes young minds and establishing a gardening project which nourishes our staff and community members. Through our work in Yambio, we are accompanying through nourishment of mind and body.
When I first moved to Yambio, I thought the newfound peaceful climate would remain consistent and that those who lived so many years in exile would finally have the chance to start anew. However, this area has not been immune from the prevailing conflict in South Sudan. People in Yambio and especially eastern parts of Western Equatoria State have been engulfed in the raging conflict; thousands have been internally displaced and hundreds left dead. In contrast to my past hopes, renewed violence in the future is still a possibility.
Despite all the uncertainties, I have remained motivated by the driving force that continues to keep me committed to my work with JRS: the communities and individuals who overcome enormous trials to emerge stronger. They often transform themselves into strongholds of development of their own communities - be it in education, administration, governance, or social sectors. Looking back, I know my efforts were not made in vain.
JRS is a unique humanitarian agency, distinguished by its fundamental approach to human rights and respect for both its staff and beneficiaries. These values of equality, tolerance, freedom of speech, flexibility lead to teams driven by hope, compassion, justice, dignity, solidarity, participation and teamwork.
For ten years I've been on a journey with JRS as it continues to better its services, policies, inclusiveness, and holistic approach in responding to the needs of humanity. The most striking value associated with JRS is the accompaniment aspect, that I personally find as a fountain of hope due to the commitment JRS makes to being present, to listen, to help both refugees and the world to find meaning in their suffering. This promotes identity and companionship. Under the aspect of inclusiveness, JRS has gone outside itself to embrace one of its core values of participatory approach by lay and Jesuit staff alike.
This entire experience has built the strength of my faith and hope in the Lord. It is a true reflection that as much as we serve refugees and displaced people in their most deplorable conditions we too are a part of that experience they face.
Aidan Azairwe, JRS Yambio Project Director