Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB

UGANDA: Salesian Priest Calls for Reconsideration of Care for Teenagers in Refugee Camps

By Sr. Jecinter Antoinette Okoth, FSSA on AMECEA News

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A Catholic Priest ministering in Uganda Palabek Refugee Settlement Camp has called for reconsideration on how to care for teenage refugees who face multiple challenges and get hurt as they struggle for daily survival.

“Oftentimes we fail to pay attention to the struggles of children who are sufferings daily and are not able to do anything by themselves,” the Director of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Settlement Camp Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB said in a message shared with AMECEA online Sunday, August 30.

Talking about refugees who are in the pre-teenage and early teenage bracket of 10 to 16 years, Fr. Arasu noted that these youths “have already lived in the Refugee Camps and Settlements and other protected sites that accommodate the Internally Displaced People—IDP Camps.”

However, according to the priest, they as refugees experience “difficulties in obtaining legal documents, discriminations of different kinds, cultural clashes between tribes, lack of security, information, safety, and the possibility of movements and lack of opportunities for study, training, and livelihood.”

These are challenges which, he says, “are more for the grown-up youth.”

He explained that these experiences have pushed the teenage refugees “into trauma and distress which their tender age cannot hold, and leads them to frustration and a sense of hopelessness.”

 “This ineptness can lead them to perform poorly in their study, relationship, and other life situations. As years go by these traumatic situations can be manifested in deviated behavior patterns, including physical violence,” Fr Arasa disclosed.

Palabek refugee settlement camp whose mission is to enable refugee and host communities to discover their hidden potential for the promotion of peace, human dignity, and socio-economic development, began its operation in 2017, two months after war broke out in South Sudan.

Fr. Arasu observed that a growing teenager is in need of “youth-sensitive and reproductive education and health care as they are maturing into adulthood.” In this case, the teenagers need “specific protection, guidance, and assistance which is the right of any youth.”

He explains that when the youths fail to receive this support, they easily fall prey to abuses, exploitation, and manipulations.

Speaking specifically about the girl-child, the Indian SDB priest narrated that “failures in getting basic needs makes her more vulnerable than their male counterparts.

He gave reference to Covid-19 pandemic guidelines including redundancy, closure of schools, loss of jobs and restrictions on movements which have led to an increase in teenage pregnancies and cases of defilements, child marriages, and induced abortions.

“Oftentimes this weaker sex suffers in different facets – physically, socially and emotionally,” the priest said adding that, “At the wake of crime, simplistic moral judgments are rashly made such as ‘the youth are immoral; the youth do not know what they want in life; youth are irresponsible; we do not know what these girls are looking for.’ Yet often we fail to see the underlying cause and the root of the problem.”

“Some of the solutions can be providing a few items for basic and day to day needs, the supply of food items, counseling them individually and in groups and organize group dynamics and moments of animation for them to share and give them time and ear for listening,” says Fr. Arasu.

“The Salesians are organizing a series of meetings and animation programs to meet young people for a residential animation program where they can pray with them, play with them, listen to them and provide for basic needs such as soap, clothes, sanitary pads, reading materials and a few kilos of maize flour and beans,” he said

From August to October, the Salesians intend to have about 500 teenagers and young people attending animation programs and bring into reality the motto of our Don Bosco Refugee Mission in Palabek, “Rebuilding Lives.”

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