Blog Home

Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health


Sign up to receive the blog directly to your email inbox

No filters: The emerging Congolese refugee crisis

by Helen Manson | Jan 31, 2018


The last few days have been equal parts swearing (under my breath) and praying. Truth is, it’s hard not to whisper a swear word to yourself when you see a one-year-old child who weighs 13.5 pounds because of malnutrition.

It’s hard not to swear as you watch a woman give birth in a makeshift hospital tent inside a refugee camp.

It’s hard not to swear when a woman rushes into that same medical tent to say that a one-week-old baby has been abandoned and hasn’t been fed since who knows when. As the quiet gasps escape my mouth I find myself turning to pray immediately for help from the only person that can--God.

You see, right now there’s an invisible crisis happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo and I’ve just spent three days listening to horrendous stories and witnessing first-hand the tremendous influx of refugees coming out of there, spilling into southwest Uganda. It’s invisible because hardly anyone’s talking about it and, honestly, I get it. It certainly feels to me like some country in Africa is always at war. It’s become part of the wallpaper of our lives.

But in the last few weeks things have escalated significantly in Congo. For most of last year between 30 and 75 people crossed the border from Congo to Uganda each day. But since Jan. 1, 2018, the numbers have increased to a whopping 500 on average per day. Thousands upon thousands of families now wait up to a week at a transit center before being transported to the nearest refugee settlement about a seven-hour drive away. 

I often wish I could take you all with me on these trips. So this time, instead of sharing photos, I’m going to share four one-minute iPhone videos that will hopefully help bring it to life even more. No filters, no editing.

UPON ARRIVAL
When refugees arrive in Uganda, they wait in lines where they receive initial health screenings and are asked about their immunization status.


Having issues viewing these videos? View on Facebook >>

HEALTH SCREENING 
After families receive their health screenings and food ration cards, they make their way over to the health clinic. Within ten minutes of arriving in this tent on my first day, I watched as a woman gave birth on the exact bed you’ll see on this video. Silently and without any fuss. The baby's head was already out when she hoisted herself onto the table and began to push. She was frail, but with a steel resolve. The Medical Teams women attending to her were confident, calm, and professional and had the room cleaned up within minutes after her delivery. She then lay on the floor with a cardboard box folded in half for a pillow. Her baby sleeping peacefully under the one blanket she had to her name.  



ACCOMODATIONS
The line for the Office for the Prime Minister (people in charge of camps) and the UN's refugee agency is usually hundreds long. The sheer number of people and the smells are often overwhelming. The day before I took this video, I spotted a group of four young boys aged 6 to 12 huddled together and all alone. I inquired as to their situation and discovered they had arrived at the camp without parents. Three of them were in matching t-shirts and it took everything in me to stop the tears from falling as I looked at how scared and vulnerable they were in that moment. Who would help them get food? Who would give them a blanket to sleep under? Who would kiss them as they went to sleep that night inside those big red buildings you’ll see in this video?


FOOD
What are refugees eating? How do you serve 2,700 people on any one day? This is a video of one of the kitchens.



Because of a renewed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, waves of new refugees are coming into Uganda seeking sanctuary. There are now nearly 250,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda. We see them everyday, their tired bodies huddled upright in line as they await health screenings or nutritional support, their children clinging tightly. Many are mothers-to-be, who need a safe place to give birth, while others are just kids who have lost their parents.

Medical Teams International is the primary provider of health and nutrition services for all Congolese refugees. The UN has called on Medical Teams to expand our services throughout southwest Uganda, and we have eagerly accepted the challenge. Together, there is no barrier to health we can't break. Learn more about how you can support our efforts in Uganda.