In Uganda, there are small buses that ply the roads between towns. They’re usually rated to carry 14 people, and they’re decorated with colorful paint, Bible verses or slogans. Many played off the same riff; I saw more than a few emblazoned with “Struggle Continuous” or “The Struggle Continues.”
For refugees living in Uganda, the brightly painted exhortations are incredibly apt. Uganda is host to a large population of South Sudanese refugees who have left their homeland to the north, fleeing political violence and mass murder. Even though Uganda arguably has the world’s most progressive refugee policies, for these people, life is still unfathomably difficult.
In the settlements and in the capital, Kampala, refugees have the legal right to work just like a Ugandan national. But they can never find work; Ugandan companies look to hire Ugandans, not refugees.
Refugees have freedom of movement in Uganda; they can freely go from city to city, and there are no fences holding them in camps as in Kenya. Nobody will stop them from traveling about. But what good is the right to travel when you have no resources to do so? If you can’t pay for a bus, it might as well be illegal for you to use it.
Refugee children are allowed go to school alongside Ugandan kids, but few families have the resources to shell out for uniforms, books, pencils or school fees. The first rung of the ladder to prosperity is just right there, but you can’t pay for the ticket to start climbing.
And then, as a backdrop to all of this, there is the constant tug at the heartstrings from home, the dull pain of exile. Beyond the physical hardship, all of us understand the call of home — the place we were born, the place we grew up, where each breeze on your face is one you’ve felt before and the sounds and smells just feel right.
You’re allowed go home whenever you want, but you can’t. These refugees fled their home as it was torn apart by wanton internecine violence. They cannot go back, not yet.
All these freedoms, but none of them can be used. You’re allowed to work, but you never will. You’re allowed to travel, but you are rooted to the spot. You are free to go, but you are shackled by the unfortunate chance of your circumstances.
But even in the face of this crushing pressure, people carry on. They try to scrape together enough money to send their children to school, they sacrifice for each other, and sometimes it is enough. Rarely, but sometimes.
Those buses, the ones that proclaim the “Struggle Continuous,” they’re painted with vibrant colors, not in stormy hues of gray and black. Despite the horrendous nature of their situation, the buses keep trundling and the refugees keep fighting for each other, for their families, until the long-awaited day comes when they can go back home and hopefully put their old lives back together.
Until then, however, they live off the generosity of the United Nations and international aid organizations. Please consider donating something to organizations that feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and protect the wayward. If you aren’t sure who is trustworthy to carry out that mission, feel free to email me and I’ll gladly put you in touch with groups and individuals who are.
Originally posted as a column in the Greenfield Daily Reporter. It can be found here.