Photos: Tobin Jones and Sara Schlüter

When the breakfast bell tolls, the children come running

At the reception center in Rhino camp in northwestern Uganda refugees spend their days before they are assigned plots. Here the Danish Refugee Council provides a safe haven for the newcomers, and three times a day the big kettles are put in action. This brings great joy, not least to the young ones, who start sprinting as soon as the breakfast bell tolls.


Today breakfast is being prepared for 755 people. The large kettles are filled with steaming hot maize porridge and the fragrance penetrates the air of the entire reception center, even long before it is ready to be served. The children become more and more attentive to the nearing of the breakfast hour. The head chef of the reception center has been at it for hours already, when she departs from the kettle she is stirring, and lifts up a large pot lid.

“Ding, ding, ding.”

She bangs a spoon to the lid a few times. But already on the first blow, the sprint is on. From all directions in the reception center, from tents and the shade of trees children come running in order to get in front of the line. They carry bowls, plastic pitchers and mugs for the porridge.

2017_04_01_DRC_Uganda -7_opt

Many of them have walked for days or weeks with their families to reach safety in Uganda. The war and the hunger in South Sudan have forced them to flee and few of the children have had three meals a day for a very long time. But here in the reception center in Uganda, the Danish Refugee Council makes sure, that no one starves.


“Right now we are serving breakfast for the 755 people, who are here today. Once everyone has gotten their portion, we will begin to prepare lunch. When people arrive here, they are in need of nutritious food, because there are widespread hunger in the areas they come from. That is also why the children come running like this as soon as the bell tolls. This shows how many of them have walked for days without anything to eat,” says Monica Onduro, the reception center supervisor for the Danish Refugee Council.

2017_04_01_DRC_Uganda -8_opt

But food is only one of the essential things, the South Sudanese refugees are in need of, when they arrive in Uganda, she says.


“Most of the people who arrive here are in need of psychosocial support. Many have been traumatized by their experiences. Some arrive without any belongings. They tell us about how their home has been burnt to the ground and left them with nothing. Some children come without parents or other guardians and need special support. And then there are all the people, who have experienced sexual violence. We take care of them all,” Onduro says.

No hunger in the center

The reception center is a temporary home for newly arrived refugees, before they are assigned a plot of land, which is to be their new home here in Uganda – here they can live for as long as they wish. For most people here, they very much doubt that a return to South Sudan will be possible anytime soon. They are happy to have reached to reception center, but look immensely forward to finding out, what places the Ugandan authorities have assigned them as their new homes.


“I do not know if life here will be good or not. But I am hoping for the best. At least here there are peace and no hunger,” says Martha, who has arrived to Uganda with her seven of her own children and two of her brother’s.


The rest of her family has been killed. Now she hopes for a better life where neither she nor her children need to live their life in constant fear.

All quiet in the reception center

In front of two huge kettles filled with porridge, children and adults have placed themselves into two long, straight lines waiting their turn. Some of the children are almost jumping of and down in anxious anticipation sending impatient glances to the people in line in front.


But everyone gets their turn and have their bowls filled with porridge. Afterwards the reception center turns still, while the sound of children playing for a short while are replaced by the quiet of breakfast with a smack of the mouth here and there. 

Africa's largest refugee crisis

With only a few years of exceptions, South Sudan has been plagued by war for decades. The country was granted independence from Sudan in 2011 thereby becoming the world's youngest nation. But only two years later, the country plunged into a brutal civil war, which is estimated to have cost more than 300,000 people their lives so far. At the same time more than two million have become internally displaced inside South Sudan and more than 1.5 million have fled to neighboring countries - primarily Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Uganda alone has welcomed around 800,000 South Sudanese refugees.

During the summer of 2016, violent conflict erupted once again forcing people to flee. According to the UN, up to two thousand refugees arrive to Uganda every day. The Danish Refugee Council works in South Sudan and neighboring countries including Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia and provides assistance to the people who are seeking refuge outside the country.

2017_04_01_DRC_Uganda -56_opt

Rhino camp - no ordinary refugee camp

Rhino camp in Uganda is not like most refugee camps. There are no rows of tents crammed into a tight space. Instead it covers a wider area, and refugees live in villages that are scattered throughout the area.  The neighboring villages are inhabited by native Ugandans who have lived there for generations. Rhino camp is divided into clusters of homesteads called villages including Ocea, a replica of the indigenous pattern of settlement. The villages are grouped according to proximity to constitute zones. Refugees in Rhino camp settlement and all other refugee settlements in West Nile and Uganda as a whole have access to plots of land for shelter and farming.