By Linda Bordoni
In 2018 Uganda took in more refugees than any other country in the world. Large numbers of those stranded are children in need of everything to survive and develop.
Other challenges faced by refugees include agricultural productivity, information dissemination and distribution of goods. Caritas Uganda is on the frontlines with short and long-term programmes to help them integrate and become autonomous.
Caritas Uganda Program Coordinator, Hellen Chanikare spoke to Linda Bordoni about Caritas’ work with refugees, about other pressing challenges it faces, and about the increasing need to recognize the role of women in decision-making roles.
Hellen Chanikare explained the vast majority of refugees in the country have fled from violence in South Sudan in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She said that the main need of the South Sudanese refugees is food security.
After having tackled an emergency phase, she said, “right now we are trying to provide them with crops that can give them food security for at least six months and even a year”.
Chanikare said that thanks to the Ugandan government policy according to which the refugees must be integrated into Ugandan society, they are given land to farm, and this, she said, helps Caritas as well in its effort to sustain the refugees.
5 strategic objectives
Chanikare explained that Caritas Uganda focuses on five strategic objectives.
She listed them as food security; response to humanitarian needs, climate change, disease management and the promotion of good governance through advocacy for policy change, transparency and accountability.
She said the increasing effects of climate change are such that Caritas has decided to take the “Climate Change” programme out of the mainstream and tackle it as a “stand-alone” objective.
“Looking at the disease burden,” she said, “we have so many diseases that are impairing our interventions with development: for example the HIV epidemic, we have Ebola, we have the nodding disease in the northern part of the country”.
Promotion of good governance
That’s why objective number five is so important, Chanikare explained, because only by pushing for good policies on climate change and on food security can true development ensues.
“We need good policies for the farmers to produce”, she said, and regarding climate change “we need good policies to protect the environment and ecosystems”.
Caritas is confederation with a world-wide reach. Chanikare said she feels supported and sustained by the rest of the Caritas family and explained she participates in two different Forums that bring many members together to join forces.
These, she said, are the Caritas African Forum and the Women’s Forum: “I see us speaking with a concerted voice” and thanks to these Fora, she said, were are able to raise important issues, debate them, and bring them to the attention of the General Assembly when it met at the end of May.
The Women’s Forum
Chanikare said the Women’s Forum is particularly important to her.
“It is very important. We are working in a structure that is mainly male-dominated, so having the Women’s Forum is a way of getting the voices of women to express what we want in this male-dominated scenario,” she said.
She also expressed her belief that it is really important for women to be represented at the highest levels of the governance body of Caritas Internationalis and of the Church in general: “We need that women’s voice, it could be religious women, it could be lay women, but we need their voice up there”.
“We have differences in thinking, in feeling, differences in the body and that needs to be taken up to that level,” she said.
Chanikare said she was very satisfied that thanks to that Forum, the women of the Caritas family were able to make some very good recommendations that were presented at the General Assembly.
She said she is optimistic that change is underway – as she waits to see how those recommendations are translated into policy.