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‘Music Helps Me Heal’: Refugee’s Journey Through Trauma

Story & Photos by Damalie Hirwa

War broke the family apart and left a mother fending for her six children single handedly in a foreign land. One of those children was Sarah, who is now 19.

Mission Aviation Fellowship flies to Arua in north-western Uganda four times a week, and some of its passengers are Brass for Africa, who support refugees like Sarah Kojo Moses.

If it were not for a MAF flight, it would take the organisation an entire day’s travel by road, in order to access Bidibidi, the second largest refugee settlement in the world, home to Sarah for the past six years.

Brass for Africa uses music to reach the hearts of refugees, to help them heal from trauma and depression. When they started a music programme at the settlement three years ago, South Sudanese refugee Sarah joined the team and her healing started.

“This programme has greatly changed my life. Since I joined in 2020, I have found myself. I am more confident now than I was before. I have changed from a nobody to a somebody. I even counsel my friends who are facing big challenges in the settlement,” Sarah says.

Sarah is now 19, but many teenage girls didn’t get the same opportunity to learn.

“There is a big problem of early marriages here. Parents are not able to take care of their children, and the children spend their day moving around the villages. Many of them don’t go to school and so the girls get married to much older men, some fit to be their fathers,” she adds.

Sarah’s sister is one of the girls that fell victim to cross-generational relationships.

“When we came from South Sudan, my mother could not take care of all of us, so my aunt took responsibility of my big sister. But she did not take good care of her, so my sister got pregnant at 16 and was married to an old man. My aunt said it was useless to take a girl to school because education is for boys.” Sarah says that other girls like her end up selling alcohol. Early pregnancy is a common occurrence at Bidibidi refugee settlement. But programmes like Brass for Africa keep the young girls and boys busy, giving them a positive focus.

“We are creating awareness on menstrual, mental health and handwashing in the schools and community here. We recruit health ambassadors from among the refugees, who we train and send them back to share the knowledge in the communities. We also hold community sessions,” says Molly Nabwami, Brass for Africa’s project health officer.

Molly says that the health needs at the settlement are enormous.

Sarah considers herself an orphan, because since they escaped from the war in South Sudan, they got separated from her father and she thinks, he might have been killed, like her younger brother who was murdered in cold blood, by the rebels.

“Music is helping to heal my trauma and stress. It’s a journey. When I want to release stress, I play music, go to a private place and cry or visit my friends,” she says.

Like many refugees, Sarah would not like to return home to South Sudan even if things changed.

“I wouldn’t like to go back to my country. Maybe I will change my mind in future.”

Mission Aviation Fellowship is committed to working with organisations like Brass for Africa, to ensure that refugees in Uganda receive the help, hope and healing that they need. The settlement at Bidibidi was opened in 2016 during a time civil war broke out in South Sudan. The refugee settlement covers 260 square kilometres.

“The presence of MAF flights is very helpful because it takes 14 hours or longer to get to Yumbe by road. Time is key for our staff, especially for our senior management and guests. MAF flights allows us to get to the settlement faster and easier,” says Brass For Africa’s Country Director, Andrew Agassi.


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