Imagine you live in a war-stricken country, you flee to save yourself and your child and you are able to find refuge in a peaceful settlement in Uganda, only for your life to be altered again and danger to present itself to you in a different form.
In 2013, conflict broke out in South Sudan, leading to a complex and dangerous situation of armed conflict, economic decline, disease and hunger. With thousands of new arrivals fleeing to Uganda every day, South Sudan is now Africa’s largest refugee crisis. According to the Yale MacMilliian Center, “More than 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees have fled to neighboring countries in the region, around half of which are located in Uganda.”
"Surviving War: Portraits of Refugee Mothers " is a portrait series on the lives of previously oppressed but presently determined and overcoming individuals. It is about the dignity to be found in the dusty arid streets of Uganda's Imvepi refugee housing settlement. While these women obviously don't take pleasure in the poverty they live in, they stand proud in the face of it. The women in this series are survivors of violent attacks, sexual assault and, in many cases, exploited as child soldiers, forced into domestic servitude, and even sex slavery.
Stories like twenty-year-old woman named Nadia. Nadia lives in the Imvepi settlement and built her house there along with the support of the UNHCR. She said that she found the settlement to be peaceful but the cuts in the food rations are most concerning. Collecting water has also been a challenge because of the shortage; it may take up to four days to receive water and when water is available, she must walk two kilometers, which she is only able to do during the day because she fears that going out at night is dangerous for any woman. Nadia also speaks of the dangers when collecting firewood. She never travels alone to collect wood as she fears getting raped — a common problem that all women have in the settlement. Men use firewood to manipulate women to have sex with them in exchange for the wood. Firewood is an essential part of survival, but the land is scarce, leading to people having to compete for the wood.
Refugees have insufficient access to food, water, and firewood. For men to abuse this lack of resources to rape and abuse women is simply evil. Every woman around the world would be able to understand the horror of having to plan your day around avoiding rape. I can’t imagine what adding no water and not enough food to that list would do to a woman’s mental and physical health.
Through portraiture the series aims to empower refugee mothers and foster a dialogue about the need to safely access water, food, and firewood in the Imvepi Settlement, Uganda. Collecting food, water, and firewood in many African countries is a huge burden on women. Lack of safe access to these resources can be life-threatening particularly in conflict situations. Women not only face the threat of rape but compete with other people who also need the resources.
Uganda hosts the largest refugee population in Africa with 1,411,098 refugees & asylum seekers as of 29th Feb 2020 with the refugees in 13 districts of Adjumani, Arua, Moyo, Yumbe, Lamwo, Kiryandongo, Kyegeegwa, Kamwenge, Isingiro, Obongi, Koboko, Kikuube host refugees in 30 settlements plus 79,958 refugees in Kampala City.