Where the Streets Have No Name: Jewi Refugee Camp, Western Ethiopia

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Moses Moini (left) with Chencot James, 16, a South Sudanese member of the Mennonite Church (MKC) in Gambela

Moses Moini was a first-year student at Juba University, Sudan, when military tanks crashed through the campus grounds to quell a student conflict. It was 1987.

The university, located in what is now South Sudan, was a microcosm of the North-South civil war unraveling the rest of the country. In this case, the Southern Students Christian Association put up an exhibition, and students from the North trashed it. Chaos ensued, and the University president (from the North) called in the army. Tanks rolled across campus, and Southern students were rounded up and beaten. Moses, along with five students from his home village, grabbed up a few things in their backpacks and fled.

sud_sat.gifThey walked 100 miles through dense forests to their village, close to the Ugandan border. This was the time before computers and cell phones, so communications with home were limited in the best of times, let alone during a civil war. When he arrived home, Moses found that his family of seven had already fled to Uganda. He and his university friends followed them, and after registering at the border with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), entered Oliji refugee camp, a transit camp already holding 30,000 people.

Flash forward to October 2018. This week Moses, along with five other Migration and Resettlement Coordinators from MCC Canada, visited Jewi camp which hosts 62,000 refugees who have fled the ongoing war in South Sudan. MCC’s partner International Medical Corps (IMC) distributes MCC’s signature canned meat to children between six months and two years of age who are at risk of malnutrition.

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Nyadieng Gach Gatkouth, 21, and her one-year-old daughter Nyamal Deng Lam will receive four tins of turkey each month.

Children already suffering from malnutrition are not eligible for the meat, which is preventative, but are treated with nutritional supplements as part of a separate therapeutic feeding program. Plumpy’Sup is a fortified peanut-based energy food that Nyapuot, the four-year-old girl in the blue dress, is holding.

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I asked the girl’s mother, Nyabim (right), what she had for breakfast this morning. She replied that she had not yet eaten, and would only eat one meal of beans and a fortified corn and soy flour blend (CSB+) that is distributed through the World Food Program.

UN refugee rations have fallen from 26 kilograms per person per month four years ago (combination of cereals, pulses, salt, sugar and oil) to 10 kg currently, mostly cereals.

MCC canned meat is the only protein that is available to the refugees in Jewi Camp who do not have income to buy meat or beans in the local markets. It is highly valued by the refugees and by our partner, who would like to expand the program to include the disabled and elderly.

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From left to right: Orlando Vasquez, Solomon Teferi (MCC Ethiopia), Arisnel Mesidor, Brian Dyck, and Moses Moini from the MCC Canada Migration Team, along with Minda Sebsibe and Lakashaw Getinet from IMC and Bruce Buckwalter next to a shipment of MCC canned meat

Back to Moses.

Because his childhood village was only 10 km from the Ugandan border, Moses and his family walked to the refugee camp in Uganda, rather than to the camps in Ethiopia, like the one we visited. He lived in Oliji for two years, starting a volunteer night-school where he and his university friends taught high school classes. He earned a small stipend for teaching, and was able to go to Kampala to search for further education. While there, he  met Jessica, who would later become his wife. He applied to “every institution in the world” to try to continue his studies, and was finally accepted by Brock University in St. Catharine’s under the World University Service of Canada sponsorship. He wrote a letter of farewell to his family in the refugee camp, and boarded a plane for Ontario.

Twenty-six year later, Moses is in his tenth year as MCC Refugee Program Coordinator for Ontario. His mother, father, and sister died in exile. His work in refugee resettlement in Canada, and even his status as a Canadian citizen, still left him powerless to bring his remaining family out of the camp in Uganda. After his sister-in-law died, he was able to sponsor his niece and nephew, who now live with him, his wife Jessica, and their seven year old son in Ontario.

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Moses with the Jewi Camp Deputy Director Gabriel Biel Deng

I asked Moses how he was able to transition so successfully from the chaos of South Sudan’s interminable years of conflict, through the refugee experience in Uganda, to life and work in Canada, to being a coordinator in migration and resettlement, to helping others face the same difficulties and heartbreaks he experienced. He replied, “I wonder why others can’t have similar opportunities, and experience similar successes.”

DSC_9753 (2).jpgMCC is working to provide the first opportunity to children like Nyamal Deng Lam, who will turn one on December 9. Her first priority is to stay alive and healthy. She needs to have access to protein-rich foods, such as MCC’s canned meat, especially during the first 24 months of her life while her brain is growing so quickly.

The meat that MCC provides is a drop in the bucket of need. Our programs in Ethiopia received 8-10 containers per year. There is simply not enough meat to meet the demands of even the most needy refugees.

meat canner

To make matters worse, the canner is currently understaffed, and MCC is earnestly looking for two drivers with CDLs to volunteer. So here’s something you can do. Volunteer to drive the MCC canner, and if you can’t drive, you can still help pack meat!

The words and images in this video are not endorsed by Mennonite Central Committee. The music is Where the Streets Have No Name by U2, and is used without permission.



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