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Humanitarian Benson's powerful story

Humanitarian Benson's powerful story
Pictured: Benson with 5-year-old Fiona who he meet while playing at a World Vision Child Friendly Space in a refugee settlement in northern Uganda.

BENSON OKABO,WORLD VISION OPERATIONS LEAD REFUGEE RESPONSE IN UGANDA

Benson is one of our staff members working on the frontline in Uganda supporting South Sudanese refugees, particularly children. This World Humanitarian Day, 19th August, he shares his own story of fleeing conflict, losing family and why, instead of revenge, he opted to become a humanitarian. 

Forgiveness after experiencing injustice     

It took me a long while to let forgiveness take its course. My first intent was to take revenge. 

I wanted to act against the people who senselessly killed my father. He was helping extremely vulnerable people who were stuck in their houses while others were fleeing violence and armed cattle raids in July 1987. I was 11 years old back then. 

That fateful day, my family heard a sudden burst of gunfire. We scrambled and ran to the bush where we spent three nights without food, water and clothing. After three days, we regrouped as a family only to learn the following day, another group of warriors were approaching our home. My parents sent us ahead with a boat to a small island, about 8 miles away, and promised they would follow us. I rowed my two sisters and niece, ages 11, eight and four years, respectively.  

Days later, we were reunited with our mother, but we could not connect with our father. We returned home to find my father and 20 other people had been killed by the warriors. It was painful as we searched and eventually discovered his body was lying in the bush.  

I was devastated. My father was my anchor and his death left a huge responsibility on all of us. 

Finding purpose once again 

We did not know where to start, but we just did what we could to get food and an education. As a teenager, my heart burst with anger and frustration. I thought my future was over. Every time I saw a soldier, I wanted to join the army and find my father’s killers. 

When things calmed down, I went back to school. It was very hard getting fees and basic needs coming from a family of eight children as my mother had been a house wife. I cannot forget one day when my teacher scolded me for not wearing clean clothes. I just kept quiet. If he only knew that it was the only set of clothes I had. I contained my embarrassment just to be able to go to school.  

I eventually finished my studies and joined an International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) to support internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Northern Uganda. Playing a role in the response made me realize that I can help protect children in conflict so they do not experience what I went through.  

It became my goal to become an aid worker because I know what it is like to be displaced and marginalized. 

Inspired to work on the frontlines 

After several job applications, God finally gave me the opportunity to work with World Vision response in Karamoja in 2014. It was a very powerful experience being able to work for the conflict-affected children besieged with malnutrition from the communities where my dad’s killers came from.  

At least 60 per cent of those affected in this crisis are children. They are just like me and my siblings when we were running for our lives in Northern Uganda. It is unthinkable why children go through this horror when they should never be a target. 

My experience in Karamoja has inspired me to work in emergencies. Now, I am the operations lead for the refugee response in Uganda for people fleeing violence in South Sudan. I do this so that we can stop other kids from experiencing what I went through. 
 
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