I Have No Answers For You
By: Joe Barnes
As of today, January 26, 2018, we have been in Uganda for nine full days. If this is your first time checking out my journey, I am currently living in Rhino refugee camp in northern Uganda, which houses over 2 million South Sudanese refugees. I came over here with a team seeking to share stories with the world. We believe sharing the stories of those living here in this camp can actually change their situation, so that’s what we want to figure out.
During our first foray out into one of the villages located nearby the orphanage in which my team is staying, I, along with Haley and Tiara, stumbled across a group of perhaps 15 teenage boys. We sat down awkwardly and made a series of cordial statements and gestures back and forth, clearly uncertain of where to go from here. These boys were not like the kids who smile and yell out the local word for “white man” when they see us passing through their village. There wasn’t a warm fuzzy welcome.
After a few more minutes of impersonal cordialities, we asked a question that changed the trajectory of the conversation.
“Do you have any questions for us?”
The boys didn’t hesitate. In fact, it was as if they were waiting for permission.
“We would like to know what you are going to do to actually help the South Sudanese. If America runs the world, why aren’t they helping us end the war? They go to kill Osama Bin Laden and Sadam Hussein, but not Salva Kiir.”
For clarity’s sake, Salva Kiir is the current President of the South Sudan. He’s a member of the Dinka tribe, which is currently in power. The vast majority (if not all) of the refugees living here in Rhino refugee camp are from other tribes, which oppose the ruling Dinka tribe. Much of the war in South Sudan is a tribal war with focused killings along tribal lines. Determining which side started the conflict and who is right or wrong predictably depends on who you ask. One side will point to one event while the other points to something different. It’s a tragic situation that has affected millions of people. Many of these boys I was talking with have lost close family members due to the soldiers from other tribes.
I had no idea how to answer. The question was filled with frustration. They didn’t feel seen or heard. They felt like the leftovers from a war who were sentenced to live in this camp for the rest of their lives with very little opportunity and a dwindling hope.
“I have no answers for you,” I said, fearing that a political response would only make them feel worse.
“But I can honestly sit here and tell you how deeply I admire each of you.”
Their complexions changed as I shared with them how incredible it is that they are choosing to do more than merely survive. They want to thrive in their current conditions. The things they have seen and the situation in which they now reside would be enough to mentally and emotionally cripple many men and women around the world, much less teenagers. I thought about myself going through everything they have, and I honestly don’t know if I could say with confidence whether or not I could persevere as well as these boys.
Honestly, there is nothing that I could say that would really heal their wounds or bring restoration to their minds. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to understand all of the tragedies they’ve experienced. That frustrates me. I’m a “fixer” and a “doer.” I want solutions, but I don’t have any to offer them that will actually appease their angst. What I do have to offer is this project. Our hope is to give them a voice. Many of these refugees feel similarly to these 15 teenage boys. Voiceless, hopeless, and stuck. We believe our project can start to create some momentum that can change their circumstances. If enough people hear their voice, one of the biggest barriers between these refugees and a hopeful future can be overcome.