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Addressing physical and psychological needs of refugees in Uganda

Supporting the Displaced Populations/Refugees

Interview with Meryll Patois, HI rehabilitation technical advisor in Uganda

Tabitha, 8, receives new crutches to help her walk to school. Omugo refugee settlement, May 2018

Tabitha, 8, receives new crutches to help her walk to school. Omugo refugee settlement, May 2018 | © M.Sigonney / HI

Why was it important for HI to start some rehabilitation activities for refugees in Uganda?

HI started its physical rehabilitation activities because the needs are very important due to the type of conflict faced by South Sudanese refugees. There are no other rehabilitation services in the camp at the moment; HI is the first organisation to provide this service.

We can see the violence of the conflict on our beneficiaries’ bodies. Some of our beneficiaries suffered extreme violence and did not have access to any healthcare for a long time and had to continue with their injuries, making them worse.

What are the profiles of the people HI’s team is supporting?

A lot of our beneficiaries have fractures and gunshot injuries. Many were attacked during the night and had to run away. Most of them have walked for days in very difficult conditions without having access to any health services. We see a lot of beneficiaries who have some complications of simple injuries that could have been treated quickly if dealt with at an early stage. With a fracture for example, see complications that can lead to long-term impairment.

How is HI working in the refugee camps in Uganda?

HI has an integrated approach which is one of our points of distinction. We have a global vision of every beneficiary we meet. For example, a mother with a broken leg cannot walk anymore so she cannot go to buy food in the market or work or take care of her children. She may also have psychological trauma. In this case, our team would of course provide her with rehabilitation support but also psychological and protection support and refer her to other organisations so that she can have access to all the services she needs.

Our team would also try to find out if there is a care taker who could help a person injured or disabled. If so, we would train each care taker so they know what to do to support their friends/neighbour/family member. We find a lot of solidarity in the camps. Neighbours are supporting each other even if they only met when they arrived. We rely on these human links to make sure beneficiaries can get all the care they need.

For example, one of our beneficiaries, Beatrice, is a 10-year-old little girl whose legs are paralysed due to the Polio virus. She cannot walk. We will provide her with a wheelchair to go to school and we will also explain to her mother how to support her daughter with exercises such as stretches.

How can people access  HI’s rehabilitation services in the refugee camp?

HI has a fixed point in the camp for rehabilitation services where people can find us and we also have mobile teams of physiotherapists who reach the most vulnerable people who cannot leave their shelter.

During a rehabilitation session, HI’s physiotherapists try to work on movement to help the beneficiaries recover. If movement is not possible, HI’s team provide the beneficiaries with assistive devices such as crutches or wheelchairs to help improve their daily life.

How do you identify people who need support in the refugee camp?

We have a protection team which goes around the camp and identifies the most vulnerable people and their needs. We also rely on HI community based volunteers who are also refugees themselves and know the community very well.

Similarly, some beneficiaries are referred to us by other NGO partners such as Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.

There is a huge injustice for people who cannot move around and don’t have access to the services they need because they cannot leave their shelter. HI is reaching these invisible people who are often unintentionally excluded from humanitarian aid. Our role is to make sure that they receive the support they need. Sadly, there are still many in need of that support today.

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