Nothing could have prepared me for the shocking reality facing refugees living in Akula camp, on the border of Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Walking into Akula I was immediately aware that the refugees living there had next to nothing. It was extremely hot, dry and dusty and their homes were made from torn United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tents and anything they could find. There were no toilets and the smell of faesces was overbearing.
Akula was the location of one of Act for Peace’s international programs and is the focus of the upcoming Christmas Bowl appeal. Last year, members of the Uniting Church WA raised more than $118,000 as part of the Christmas Bowl that supported Burmese refugees and communities around the world. This year we are hoping that the combined effort of churches around Australia will make a huge difference to the lives of South Sudanese refugees and other people in need.
After decades of conflict in surrounding countries, Ethiopia is now host to more refugees than any other country in Africa. And as one of the world’s poorest countries, they are struggling to cope. Akula camp is home to South Sudanese refugees who’ve fled ongoing civil war to find a better life for their families. One of the largest problems facing refugees in Akula is a lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.
There are no toilets in Akula and just one working water pump. People are forced to go to the toilet out in the open. The lack of water means that there is no way for people to wash their hands and deadly diseases spread rapidly. Children are particularly at risk from these diseases, including one young boy named John.
John was a little eight-year-old boy who was extremely sick and at risk of dying because he didn’t have access to clean water. When John’s family fled the horrific war in South Sudan, they arrived with nothing. They thought that in Akula, at last, they would be safe, but they were wrong. I remember very clearly John being too weak to move and the desperate worry his mum, Tuskur, had that he would die. Dozens of others in the camp had already succumbed to the disease he’s caught: Hepatitis E. It was devastating to see this little boy so sick and I knew that all it would take to save him would be a bit of clean water and some soap. No fancy drugs. No cutting edge medical research. Just water and soap.
What stayed with me the most, was how simple it was to fix the problems they were facing and to finally give these caring people a chance at a safe and dignified life. The solution is as simple as clean water, soap and toilets – things we take for granted here in Australia.
You can give to The Christmas Bowl Appeal and help support people in Akula. To find out more or to order a church fundraising kit with worship resources, visit www.actforpeace.org.au/ christmasbowl or call 1800 025 101.