Christine Cheka, 17, Blessing Unice, 15, and Sarah Melesi, 16, all refugees from South Sudan living in the Bidi bidi settlement camp in Yumbe district walk and chat like they have been best friends since childhood; they know each other’s story and complement each other throughout the interviews.
As the interview gets deeper, this perception disappears with each statement uttered.
They are not childhood friends and only got to know each other a month earlier when they formed a musical dance group to compete in the Bidi bidi got talent competition that was organized by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in partnership with Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda and other international partners.
Although not childhood friends, these three girls and many other in similar situation have become good friends because of the reality and similarity of the situation they have found themselves in.
Like most children and the young youth here, these three girls are in Uganda almost alone with no information about their parents that they left back at home in South Sudan when they freed their country due to insecurity in their home.
They now live with distant relatives and neighbors but still remain hopeful about the possibility of reuniting with their parents once the war has ceased completely.
Cheka arrived in Uganda on 9th of September, 2016 and has since lived with her aunt whom she says is not treating her very well.
Although she has been given a chance to study again at Kijebere Primary School, and is appreciative of all the help that UNHCR and the government of Uganda has provided to her, Cheka is still sad and sheds a few tears as she laments about the challenges she has faced living with a distant relative.
“I wish grandmother had come with me. She refused because the last time she was here as a refugee, she faced hardships. I do not know where my mother is. I am told she is from Ankole in Uganda but I have never seen her. My father and his second wife are back home but I mainly miss my grandmother. I do not feel comfortable living with my aunt because she does not like me,” Cheka says, with tears in her eyes.
Cheka says she would rather stay at her school or at the reception camp than staying with the aunt.
Melesi’s story, also a P.6 pupil at Kijebere Primary School is quite different but almost similar.
She too fled south Sudan with her two sisters, Annah Kyadiru, 23, and Ruth Opani, 19, and now stays in Swinges Zone 2, in Bidi bidi camp with them.
Even when these are her blood sisters, Melesi says she is not conformable living with them.
She says she does not feel protected and loved and wishes to live with her parents whom she left in South Sudan.
“Sometimes food is very scarce, even finding soap and water at home is hard. My sisters are also looking after themselves and I just feel like a burden to them. I wish I had my parents with me here,” Melesi smiles, sadly.
Unice, however, has a different outlook.
Contrary to her two friends who live with relatives, Blessing lives with a neighbor.
Apart from the common challenges of enough food, water source being far from home and not having enough scholastic materials, Blessing is very grateful that she is receiving free education at Kijebere and free healthcare which was not the case while she was at home in South Sudan.
“Back home, I was being chased every day from school, now I am going to school for free and receiving medical attention when I get sick. I just wish the services offered would be made better so that I struggle and make my future bright. I miss my parents to but I am not very sad because I have been given another chance here in Uganda” Blessing noted.
These three girls stories are just a sample of similar stories of what political instability does to thousands of children, women and men who have to free their homes in fear of their lives, in most cases living behind loved ones and finding themselves lost in a foreign country.
The talent show could change everything
However, this sad story may come to an end soon with the Bidi bidi talent competition.
Started just a month ago, the competition has seen a number of refugee youth come together to form dance and drama groups.
The three girls are members of the bigger group of Kijebera dance group from zone two that won the dance competition at a Gland finale held Saturday at the camps reception.
These three girls whom I talked to before the show started looking more cheerful and hopeful after being announced winners and now stand a chance to improve their career with a mentorship program that will be provided by established Ugandan musicians with support from UNHCR.
According to Yonna Tukundane, the communications and public associate UNHCR Uganda, the competition which started this year and will be an annual event has brought a ray of rare hope with the refugee youth coming together to achieve their long lost dreams through their talents.
“Before this competition, most of these young girls and boys did not know each other. Having come from south Sudan, some with no single family member, these young people who are mostly below 25 did not have any friends. However, right now, most of them have become friends and are able to share between each other the challenges that they are facing being away from home. The music groups they are in have become their new families,” Tukundane said.