Even before the coronavirus arrived, living conditions in Palabek were not easy: food distribution was scarce and there were difficulties in accessing drinking water. With the arrival of the pandemic, everything has become even more complicated. The amount of food delivered to refugees once a month has been reduced by 30%; classes and activities were suspended and episodes of violence, alcoholism and teenage pregnancies began to appear.
Since March the Salesian missionaries have remained here to share this particular and complicated confinement with all the camp's other guests. In an area of 400 square kilometers and with more than 25,000 children and young people, the goal has always remained to carry out concrete actions in their favor.
The Don Bosco Technical School, inaugurated in January 2019, has continued to operate thanks to the project of making masks. Despite very limited material resources, some young volunteers from the sewing workshop have begun to make these fundamental protective devices.
In the first months of the pandemic alone, more than 10,000 masks were distributed to the refugee population and administrative staff of the settlement. Uganda’s Minister for Refugees, Hilary Onek, visited the settlement in July and praised the Salesian project. "The Don Bosco Center was very innovative and a pioneer in the production of masks not only in the settlement, but throughout the nation," she said.
The Salesian missionaries were involved in this initiative and in other initiatives to help the population: distribution of seeds, hygiene products, clothing. “We had to start almost from scratch in Palabek,” said the Salesian missionary of Uruguayan origins Fr Ubaldino Andrade.
The work carried out by the missionaries in recent months has made it possible to create, together with the UNHCR, the project "Masks for refugees and the host community". For this reason, the United Nations Refugee Agency has recognized the pioneering work of Salesian missionaries in the settlement and in the country, with the issue of this special diploma.
Now the authorities of the settlement are studying, together with the missionaries, new proposals for income-generating activities for refugees. Success in manufacturing face masks for the refugee community could, indeed, be the first step towards making uniforms for schools and other agricultural activities.