Sunday, April 29, 2007

Displace Me

Last night (Saturday, April 28) was a nation-wide effort to raise awareness about the horrible living conditions caused by the 21-year war in northern Uganda.  This event, called Displace Me, occured in 15 US cities and over 67,000 people participated.  I was one of them.  I traveled to Soldier Field in Chicago, the nearest Displace Me city, with seven other students from my dorm.  There were over 5,000 people there in the parking lot where we set up a simulated displacement camp for the night.  These pictures don’t do justice to the amount of people who were there, but at least they give you an idea of the magnitude of this event.

Upon arrival, we carried our sleeping bags, backpacks, food, water, and cardboard (for building a shelter) through the line to enter the camp.  Our pictures were taken, and then we had to give up our food and water (to be redistributed later in the evening) and find a place to build ourselves a “tent” for the night.  The food and water we brought was the same as what everyone brought - a 1.5 liter bottle of water and a box of saltine crackers.  These would be part of the simulation later on.
Our first task was to build our shelter.  Since there were 8 of us, we needed a fairly sizeable shelter.  We started by laying cardboard down to make a “soft” floor.  Softer than the concrete beneath it anyway.  Then, since it was fairly windy, we put up some walls.  Before we could put up the walls, though, we had to find some duct tape.  In an effort to recreate certain displacement camp scenarios, we had to ask those around us if we could share their tape.  It had to be a community effort.
Next we tried to figure out how to put a roof on our creation.  The problem was that the shelter was pretty big, but none of our boxes were that large, so we couldn’t make them go all the way over.  Two would have to meet in the middle, and that proved to be too tricky.  So we just made the walls a little higher and curved in a bit at the top and called it good.

Then it was time for the food and water distribution.  We were shown a video in which a woman described the way the Ugandans in the displacement camps had to retrieve water.  Every day the women walk two miles to fill up their 20-liter cans with water, which they must then transport back to the camps on their heads.  This means they have to carry ten pounds on their heads for two miles.  That is all the water they receive for the day, so all their cooking, washing, bathing, and drinking must be done out of this meager ration.  Besides that, there is never a gaurantee that the water is clean.  Next we were shown a video in which a man described the depression and helplessness felt by the men in the camps.  It is their job to provide food for their families, but in the camps they do not have land on which to farm.  They must walk a long way each day to a small plot of land for which they are over-charged so that they can try to provide food.  Otherwise they must depend on the aid sent to their camp. 
Now it was our turn.  The women were told they were allowed to get water for their group.  One bottle of water per woman, but she could return to the distribution table as many times as possible.  The men were lined up to receive back our saltine crackers.  If there was a group of all women, they had to find a man to wait in line to provide them with food.  If there was a group of all men, they had to find a woman willing to get them water.  The lines were very, very long (approximately 2,500 people each).  Our two boys had to wait through the line four times to get food for all of us.  We girls waited through the line once, and then two girls went back for water for the boys while the other four girls set up our shelter with our sleeping bags and blankets.  This is me, Jen, Jessica, and Paige after we set up our “home.”

We spent the rest of the evening writing letters to our senators and the President of Uganda, munching on saltines, and enjoying a beautiful night.
We had an enjoyable evening, but we were burdened by the knowledge that while we had beautiful weather, safety officers patrolling the parking lot, plenty of food and clean water, and warm beds to snuggle into, there are thousands of people who live in displacement camps year-round, and have for the past 21 years.  Our experience was novel because it was just one night.  Theirs is horrible because it is never-ending.  We all agreed that the evening was a success because it raised the awareness of eight Calvin College students who now have a passion for the displaced people of northern Uganda.

If you want to learn more about what is going on in northern Uganda, or want to get involved, go to  Be a part of promoting the peace of God’s kingdom.

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 04/29 at 06:16 PM

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