| Jun 19, 2015
A group of refugee children in Uganda.
An unprecedented number of people – nearly 60 million – currently live as refugees, driven from their homes by persecution, conflict or poverty. Most are clustered in encampments in the Middle East and Africa, places that lack the necessary resources for such a massive influx of haven-seekers.
As World Refugee Day approaches on June 20, we're reflecting on and praying for the lives of the world’s most vulnerable, who, for various reasons, cannot return to their homes. In settlements in Lebanon and Uganda, Medical Teams International provides care to thousands of refugees.
The work is a reminder: Behind the grim number, there are individuals — each one valuable, all with dreams and aspirations.
David Alula is MTI’s director of operations in Uganda and has worked alongside refugees for more than a decade. The growing number of refugees places a strain on settlements and the communities that surround them, he says.
“It is a serious crisis,” Alula said. “It’s impossible to plan for all the refugees.”
That was the case earlier in the month, when fighting in the African nation of Burundi resulted in thousands of people spilling into bordering countries. MTI is currently assisting roughly 8,200 Burundi refugees in southern Uganda, in addition to refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
Uganda is one of the nations at the center of the refugee crisis, despite being on weak footing itself. The country is now home to more than 400,000 refugees, most coming from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The top needs among the refugees are health care, food and sanitation, Alula said. It's easy to see oneself in the refugees, he added. In a growing number of countries it's becoming more common to become one. He is reflective, saying, "one day they are refugees, next day maybe me."
"Some of these are high-class people used to living in nice houses," Alula added. "They are used to having jobs. Now they have to start life under a tree. The best food they can eat is beans and porridge, which are not even in good condition."
The stories the refugees tell are harrowing, Alula said. They literally have nothing. Many have been abused.
"When you see it," he said, "that's when you want to cry."
What keeps him going are the stories of success and the knowledge that he makes a difference.
He recounted the story of a woman who became a refugee after she was attacked and raped and left for dead. Foreign doctors provided aid and transported her to a large hospital, where she was able to recuperate. When she came to the settlement, she received care and regained her strength and mental stability.
Eventually, she immigrated to the United States, where she currently lives. Because of the support and awareness of the international community, this woman's life improved.
MTI strives to make the lives of refugees stable again by controlling communicable diseases, providing psychological services and dispensing medicine. Even with the rising tide, help will remain and, with your help, grow.
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