AMERICAN REFUGEE COMMITTEE: Doing the Doable in Bidi Bidi
You may not have heard of Bidi Bidi. In a few short months it has become the second largest refugee camp in the world. This summer it was a sleepy Ugandan border town – but today it is home to some 270,000 refugees, most of whom have fled South Sudan.
ARC’s team is responsible for Zone 5 of the camp, providing protection and other support to residents of Bidi Bidi (it takes 1 hour to drive across Zone 5, alone!). We’re providing post-trauma counseling, working to prevent violence in the camp and helping run the reception center – the place where every refugee first arrives at Bidi Bidi. The camp materialized so quickly and so many people have come and continue coming, humanitarian groups are still hustling to make available all the critical services that are needed.
So why, in a place where families are living in makeshift shelters without access to the essentials, would the ARC team show up with a huge supply of cups and plates?
“You have to understand,” Paul said (Paul is the Site Manager for ARC in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement), “when refugees come, they come with nothing. Absolutely nothing. When you’re waiting in line for a meal, you will be asked to step aside if you don’t have a vessel in your hands to hold the hot food.”
The team saw a problem they could fix. Their solution? Create a dish library – dishes are numbered and lent out to those who can’t find a dish to use. It’s a system that will work until everyone has access to their own dishes.
“One man, he had walked to Bidi Bidi for ten days, finding nothing to eat along the way,” Paul said. “Once he arrived here, he was standing in line for food and when he reached the front they asked him to step aside because he didn’t have a container to hold the food. He was afraid that if he left to find a plate, the food would be gone when he returned. So, he took off his gum boot, the very shoe he walked in for days, he cut it in half and said, ‘Here, you fill this.’
“These plates, it’s an opportunity,” Paul said, “It looks cheap, but getting it to a refugee is not always easy. It can be life-saving.”
Now the team has a full set, ready to deploy, for their dish library. They’ll also use them at the Health Center in nearby Ariwa, where often patients don’t have plates to eat from while they’re receiving care.