Nearly one million refugees gather in makeshift communities close to the border with war-torn South Sudan. They are there from necessity, not choice — their transitory lives lived in temporary settlements.
Photos, footage and interviews by Mark and Kelly Hewes. Video by Matt Carvosso. Story by Jenny Davies.
When they first met Issa, Tutapona staff were working strategically through the ‘sectors’ of land allotted to new arrivals — offering help. Although the living arrangements in Adjumani afford dignity and relative normality, compared to the cramped rows of tents found in other camps, they are still home to people who have fled violence and war.
‘I hope they will use the skills that Tutapona is giving them, and that this will transform their lives as they wait for peace in South Sudan.' Issa
‘I got to know about the Empower programme in September last year,’ Issa shares. ‘I had a lot of issues. I was really traumatised by the different kinds of things that happened in my life. Going through the Empower programme, I really learned things that helped me and gave me hope.’
Issa fled South Sudan on foot with his family in 2017. But his memory goes back further than the recent conflict. The former child soldier has had to flee many times.
His incredible story, though heart-breaking, now motivates him as a Tutapona mobiliser and translator, recruiting new participants to the programme. ‘I thought it wise to continue educating others so they could also be relieved and have hope.’
‘Many things happen,’ Issa says. ‘They have seen people killed and raped. When you cross to a foreign country it’s not easy at all — you don’t know what’s next.’
It’s hard to imagine the impact of such unspeakable horrors, but Tutapona staff teach people to recognise the signs of trauma and stress. Your heart beats faster, your mind races, you replay thoughts, argue with your neighbour, drink too much and suffer from sleepless nights and fear.
Issa explains that Tutapona use the analogy of a snakebite to describe ‘anything that happens that gives bitterness to a person. When you compare to someone who has been bitten by a bush snake, the symptoms and the signs are more or less the same. We relate it that way for the community to understand. Maybe someone has insulted or loses a property. Anything bad that brings bitterness or anger in someone, that we term as snakebite.’
‘Many things happen. They have seen people killed and raped. When you cross to a foreign country it’s not easy at all — you don’t know what’s next.’ Issa
As Tutapona’s Candice Lassey explains, ‘Our approach is that, if we’re able to address trauma, and we can work people through trauma rehabilitation, then it means they can function in society the way they are supposed to. They’re able to work, to perform social duties and to raise their families well.’
Although other big name aid agencies offer counselling and support, Christian NGO Tutapona offers Bible-based hope; sowing seeds that will blossom as communities grow strong through the understanding and forgiveness people can offer one another.
‘When they come here, many of them feel hopeless. Many of them feel like there’s no future,’ Candice continues. ‘They have no family, no friends — especially those who’ve lost relatives and friends. So for them to go through trauma care and see that there’s a whole community of people experiencing the same things they are, means they’re able to move through that trauma a lot faster.’
The two-week Empower programme is followed by a review two months later, where marked improvements are often observed. But the long-term plan is for the healed to become healers, like Issa.
‘I hope they will use the skills that Tutapona is giving them,’ Issa concludes, ‘and that this will transform their lives as they wait for peace in South Sudan and extend Tutapona’s teaching to those who haven’t attended the programme.’
‘Our approach is that, if we’re able to address trauma, then it means they can function in society the way they are supposed to.' Candice Lassey
With thanks to Tutapona and Candice Lassey for their assistance with this story.