South Sudanese refugees at the Bidibidi settlement in Uganda live a hard life, residing in tents and mud huts and surviving on international aid. But on Saturday, the refugees put aside their hardships and held a talent show, with songs and plays that touched on the war back home but that also expressed hope for peace.
Bidibidi is the world’s largest refugee settlement, according to the United Nations refugee agency. It houses more than 300,000 South Sudanese who fled their country’s civil war, now entering its fifth year.
On Saturday, memories of the war came flowing out, but this time, in acts presented at the talent show, ranging from dance, rap, music and drama acts.
The beats came hard and strong in the songs, instrumentals and dances performed on a makeshift stage that had no cover, exposing performers and the audience alike to the hot sun.
The Kejebere music and dance group won the show with a range of dances from Uganda and South Sudan.
Fifteen-year-old sisters Maneno Nunas and Vicky Nyoka, dancers in the group, were brought to the Bidibidi settlement from Yei by their stepmother, who built a small hut for them and left the girls to fend for themselves.
To survive, they sometimes sell food rations to buy other necessities. Maneno explained why they joined the talent show.
“The reason that, we should avoid thinking of those bad things. About our parents and the bad things that they [soldiers] were doing for us,” said Maneno. “We need to forget home problem, yeah, that makes us to join dancing.”
Yonna Tukundane, the public information associate for UNHCR Uganda, says the talent show will be a recurring activity.
“Our main objective is to create social cohesion between the different ethnic groups and the host community,” said Tukundane.
The winning team from the Bidibidi talent show will be mentored by local artists. Afrobeat musician Solomon Sentongo explains the reason he chose to work with refugee youth.
“These people are always feeling left alone. So, as an artist, actually young artist, I am here to give them hope, so they will not actually be despaired,” said Sentongo. “They will feel important; that’s why we are here.”
Reggae musician Inizu Ronald Peace had a strong message to the warring factions in South Sudan.
“Hey Mr. soldier man, what you fighting for? Hey, Mr. President, what have you done for my residents? Why this much greed? I see your eyes full of evil. Can’t you see, these guns are gonna kill us here today. Can’t you see, this love is gonna heal us. South Sudan. Cause we are one.”
Above all, the show demonstrated that Bidibidi’s got talent.