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UGANDA: How solar lights are transforming lives of refugees in West Nile region

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ARUA CITY — At the core of the Danish Refugee Council’s mission is to protect people displaced from their homes due to conflict. In fulfilment of this obligation, the DRC have for the last several years offered protection in different forms to refugees who camped in Uganda following the unrest in neighbouring South Sudan.

Key among the interventions carried out to protect refugees has been relocating targeted individuals and offering protection to children, women and the elderly in refugee settlements. DRC have worked with communities in protection units within the settlements and hundreds of refugees atest to the timely intervention.

Mary Tumalu, a mother of one moved to Ocea-C zone in Rhino Camp, located in Arua about a year ago. She lives with the father of her child. She narrates that since she came, there have been incidents of insecurity in the settlement. Mary says the two biggest incidents are thieves and attackers from neighbouring settlements. Women and children are the most targeted in these community attacks that mostly happen at night, says Mary.

Following several reports of such incidents, DRC set up refugee information desks where the members of the community can go to report incidents of attacks. The help desk was also established to provide information to the members of the community on various issues that they seek to know.

Isaac Bingos, who moved from Yei River State in South Sudan and settled in Ocea-C in September 2016 has been a witness to many cases of settlers getting protection in the camp. He narrates that having escaped challenges related to insecurity back home, many refugees look forward to stability in Uganda, however isolated incidents posed a challenge to almost all of them. In the past he says, it has been a problem for the community members to move at night for example, due to fear of being attacked.

Against this background the DRC established the information desk at several zones in the refugee settlement.
One of these, Ocea-C Refugee information desk, is fast becoming a multi-purpose stop centre for residents of the area, offering varying amenities.

Following the outbreak of the Novel Corona Virus pandemic across the world, the DRC, working with strategic partners sought to intervene to offer critical emergency care for the vulnerable in the refugee settlement. Expectant mothers, women and the elderly as well as children we’re identified among the most vulnerable that needed the critical emergency intervention in the uncertain times.

Together with Dembe Group Signify Foundation, Sendea, Village Energy, the Danish Refugee Council in June donated solar lighting equipment to health facilities and strategic points in refugee settlements to improve the quality of health services offered and security to refugees as they struggle with the effects of COVID-19.

According to Jean-Christophe Saint-Esteben, the Danish Refugee Council Country Director, the donation is aimed at improving lives of refugees and other Ugandans, by providing opportunities for them to earn income using solar lighting and energy.

“Providing indoor and outdoor street lighting, during such a time, will help improve response to COVID-19 and reduce risk of gender-based violence, other protection and other security challenges in the community,” Saint-Esteben says.

A mother attends to her sick child at Ofua Health Centre III in Rhino Camp, Arua. Before lights were installed, patients had to use torches and hired lamps (PHOTO/PML Daily).

The partners identified refugee settlements as some of the most at risk from this pandemic and thus the need to help them.

Martha Osiro, the program manager for Signify Foundation Uganda noted that; “the focus on refugee camps is to provide security lighting, and also help with the lighting of health centers At where midwives had been using phone torches in the process of delivering babies, and where surgeons had been using poor lighting”.

The strategy is to help the 1.4 million refugees in Uganda to access energy which will ransform lives and communities.

It is believed that access to electricity in refugee settlements is also key in the provision of quality education and continued learning for children who are currently locked home following the closure of schools due to COVID-19.

Ocea-C information desk recently had a light installed there. But besides offering lighting in the neighborhood, the solar lights, installed in the shed as well as one outside, has helped provide light for children who have previously found it difficult to do revise at night.
?At Ocea-C Health Centre III, the lights were strategically installed in the inpatient and emergency reception areas, while two outdoor lights were installed, one near the makeshift tent that now houses the inpatient male ward, another was placed in the compound to light the path to the latrine facilities which health officials said has played a big role in improving the sanitation around the health centre. At the ward, patients were struggling using mobile phone lights to go about activities, but the new outdoor light is now changing the ward and easing care for patients.

DRC and partners also donated portable lights to health workers at Ofua Health Centre III, Siripi Health Centre III, among many others. Flavia Asiziyo a midwife at Siripi says the lights are a major intervention not just in provision of health care to expectant mothers but also to them as health workers.

She narrates an incident when she narrowly survived a snake biting her as she walked in the dark of the night to dispose off a placenta after safely helping a mother deliver a baby. The placenta pit, some metres away from the maternity ward, is surrounded by bush which health workers at Siripi say is infested with snakes and other deadly reptiles. The outdoor lights will help patients and workers at the facility to move about safely.

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