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Kitgum: IDP Camps

7th November 2006
Some people flee their home countries to become refugees in a foreign land.  Such is the plight of many Liberian people.  I had the opportunity to spend a couple of months with them on the Buduburum Refugee Camp in Ghana.

Some people flee from their isolated villages to internal camps in their own country.  Such is the plight of many Northern Ugandans.  The camps they flee to are called Internally Displaced People Camps, or IDP camps.

I had the opportunity to visit an IDP camp along with some volunteer buddies as part of my visit to Kitgum in Northern Uganda. 

IDP Camp
The IDP camp we visited was a long walk from the center of town, and by this stage of the trip we were feeling like our own special kind of Night Commuter.  So we hired a pickup truck for $US20 for two hours to cart us around.

We were greeted warmly by camp officials as we arrived who gave us a basic run down of the 20,000 person camp.

The World Food Program
Every month, a UN sponsored World Food Program (WFP) truck rolls into the camp bearing essential food and supplies for the people.  Every registered person gets access to a parcel.  

The registration process seemed pretty dumb to me.  I met a lady in Kitgum itself who fails to receive a parcel from the WFP because she was unable to register on the one day that the WFP designated.  She failed to register because she was taking care of a very sick sister.  Seems pretty arbitrary to me.

The other notable aid agency I saw there was USAID.  The packages the USAID supplied arrive in are often converted into doors for the mud-brick huts.  I met one USAID worker there called Matt.  Matt liked the doors because he felt they made for good advertising for the U.S.  Seemed liked an odd sort of comment to make.

Matt himself seemed like an odd sort of a character.  He is based in the U.S. and was only in Kitgum for two weeks to set up links between his home church and NGOs in Kitgum, which is cool.  He seemed very quiet and reserved, which is most unlike the missionary types I know.  I invited him out to dinner one night and he checked with the hotel staff (?!) to see if it was okay for him to go.  His heart was in the right place though, so good for him.

Missing the Basics
With all this aid flowing in you'd think people here would be well fed and nourished, but judging by the distended bellies we saw, this was plainly not the case.  

Some of the parents could not even afford clothes for their children.  We saw many kids wandering around as naked as they day they were born.

The camp did have a really cool gravity fed water system with many outlets around camp.  It was hard to say whether or not is was supplying enough water for the residents.

One thing the camp did not seem to be lacking was this bizarre home brew made from fermented oranges.  Maybe ladies make a living from making the home brew.  Most of the volunteers tried some and the general consensus was, "Not bad".

People on camp
Unlike the Night Shelters, we did get the opportunity to chat to some of the people on camp.

This lady was kind enough to invite us into her house.  With Amos translating, she explained how she shared the house with eight of her sisters.  The brothers lived in another hut.  She makes a living by combining the supplies she receives from the UN with oranges to make the aforementioned homebrew.  She hopes to return to her village one day.

We almost met this lady.  She was returning home from a funeral of a loved one when her group was ambushed by the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army).  She was shot in the forearm, but managed to escape.  The bullet is still in her arm, despite being shot over three months ago.  She hopes to travel to Gulu soon to have the bullet removed.  She has no strength in her right hand and cannot form a fist.  

This gentleman was attending (yet another) funeral service for a fifteen month child that had died of malaria.  He showed us his form that proved he was legally considered blind.  A couple of volunteers gave him a couple thousand shillings ($NZ 1.66).  

A Rant
And as a complete aside, here is an uncomfortable non politically correct thing to say about HIV and malaria.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently spent $US1 billion on anti-retroviral (ARV) medication for three million AIDS patients.  This is expected to raise their life expectancy by one year, which is great.  That means three millions years worth of life saved.  

If the WHO chose instead to spend that money on preventable and curable diseases such as malaria and diarrhea, they wouldn't reach three million people, they'd reach fifteen million people.  The life expectancy wouldn't go up by one year, it would go up between seven and sixty years depending on when the treatment was given.  

So by spending the money on thing like malaria and diarrhea, the money will add between 105 million and 900 million years worth of life. Compare that to the three million you get for focusing on AIDS*.  

So why are we spending such a disproportionate amount on AIDS?

The other IDP camp 
Some of the other volunteers chose to visit another IDP camp the next day.  I chose not to go.  I was too emotionally drained from the interviews I had done with the ladies for GrassRootsUganda.com.  I had already had too much misery for one day.

The second visit did not go well.  The chairman of the camp was not welcoming.  He apparently stormed out in a drunken state and demanded to see some paperwork.  Paper work?  What the fuck?!  They obviously didn't have any.  He then attempted to grab Gigi's camera and screamed, "No Photos!  No Photos!".


He reminds me of the infamous Semeh Roberts of Buduburum Refugee Camp fame that I had a shouting match with.  Both are doing their own people no favors whatsoever.  Semeh Roberts is in fact profiting from the misery of his own people.  I suspect the chairman of the camp is doing the same.

Safety at the Camps
Safety is a relative word in Kitgum.  Certain places - like the IDP camps - are more safe than others, but to call them "safe" would be wrong.

A politician gave a speech at one of the IDP camps.  He spoke out against the LRA and the people cheered.  The LRA spies in the camps passed word about the cheering onto the LRA itself.  

The LRA raided the IDP camp.  They started by killing the fifty soldiers protecting the camp and then moved onto kill 200 residents.  Many of the mud-brick huts were burnt to the ground.

Wrap Up
We only spent about three hours on the camp but it gave us all an insight into how much the people are suffering.  Like the Buduburum Refugee Camp, it was a very hard place to be.

This is a part of a series of pieces on Kitgum.  To see a list of other entries, click here.

* William Easterly - The White Man's Burden

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