Angie Boehmer is a Pediatric Nurse and Volunteer Nurse Educator at Muni University in Arua, Uganda through the Global Health Service Partnership.
According to UNHCR, Uganda is home to over 1.4 million refugees, with an influx of 376,000 arriving just in the past year. Many are fleeing war in South Sudan. West Nile, Uganda, the region where I live, is just across the border from South Sudan and hosts a large portion of these refugees. A few weeks ago, my town held a Run for Refugees run to raise funds to improve access to clean drinking water in refugee settlements. The tagline for the event was: “Fostering solidarity, social co-existence, and inclusiveness among refugees and host communities.”
The morning included speeches, the run, and a dance party at the finish line. The run routed through town and even people who were not part of the race cheered as the runners passed. I participated in the run and my favorite part was coming around a bend and passing a group of seven to nine-year-old boys clapping, cheering, and chanting, “Push, push push” to the runners. It was sweet to see our community come together in support of our refugee neighbors.
Over the last year, I have been struck by the exceptional level of hospitality and compassion Ugandans extend to one another and to the refugees in their community. Refugees in Uganda live in open settlements. They are free to move around, buy land, farm, and build homes. Their children can go to school and they have access to public health services.
As the largest refugee hosting country in Africa and the third largest in the world according to UNHCR, Uganda’s local resources and infrastructure are undoubtedly strained by the recent surge in refugee arrivals. Yet, when these challenges come up in conversation with my nursing students, colleagues, and neighbors, they respond with compassion. They speak of finding solutions and ways to help, not of sending refugees home or limiting their arrival.
I see this compassion in my colleagues at Muni University who integrate community outreach into the nursing curriculum. This year, Muni nursing students made community home visits to patients with HIV/AIDS, gave health talks in primary schools, and volunteered in medical outreach camps that provide free health services to locals and refugees. Last week, they cheered when our head of department told them another medical outreach is being planned. And finally, I saw this compassion at the Run for Refugees. After crossing the finish line, I found a group of my nursing students assisting professional nurses to provide care in the first aid tent.
Refugee movement and response is complicated, but what gives me hope is the compassion I see in the response of my nursing students, colleagues, and community in Uganda.