Kampala — A woman digs a trench around her tent to prevent water from entering after an afternoon downpour at Bulucheke camp
The landslide that buried over 350 people in Bududa last month turned Peter Musene into an adult. At the age of 17, he has to provide for his siblings.
Musene had read the signs.
Hours before the landslide struck, he took refuge in Inyende village, some kilometres away from their home in Nametsi. He took his siblings Michael Wobusha, 15 and William Nabende, 10.
All were pupils of Nametsi primary school, which lost 35 children. "I had returned home from a relative's funeral when I saw water seeping from the floor of our house. Our mother (Lubango) told us that it was not safe to sleep there."
Following their mother's advice, the children moved to safety. She had predicted some kind of endurable disaster, so she decided to stay and suffer alone while her children relocated. "We moved away and she remained behind.
At about 8:00pm, I heard that the landslide had buried the trading centre," Musene narrates.
Their mother, who remained behind, died. Their father, Stephen Wamambo, died in 2002.
The three are some of the 52 orphans who lost their parents in the Nametsi landslide. They live with more than 3,700 other displaced people at a camp in Bulucheke.
According to Marion Kutusa, a family and child protection officer, some children lost both parents in the landslide. At the Bulucheke camp, Musene and his siblings have had to face the reality of orphanage and adjust accordingly.
They are staying in a giant tent housing tens of children, where they receive relief supplies, although each family cooks their own food.
When time for sleep comes, the children lie the mattresses on the tarpaulins on the floor.
During the day, the tent is desolate as most children go to study at Bumwalye primary school, which is near the camp.
But Musene cannot go to school because he had to decide between continuing or staying behind to take care of his brothers' needs.
He was in primary six. "As the elder brother, I have to remain behind and prepare them meals," he explains.
"Besides, we are sharing this tent with other children. I fear that if I went out, our relief items would be stolen."
Irene Nandutu, 14, lost her father, Nasur Wanzama, a medical practitioner at Nametsi trading centre.
"At the time the landslide came, dad was at his clinic. His body has never been recovered todate," says Nandutu. "Recently, we heard that they had dug out the body of a man. We rushed to the scene just in case.
It was not him."
Nandutu, formerly of Nametsi primary school, is now at Bumwalye Primary School. She is in Primary Seven. She lives with her mother, Agnes Nabuto and brother Nathan Khatiya, 18, in the camp.
"I want to study hard to become a doctor. I know it is a hard dream to achieve since my mum is helpless but I am determined," Nadutu says.
To cater for the education of displaced children at Bulucheke camp, the Government, in partnership with civil society organisations, has enrolled pupils at Hope Education Centre within the camp and Bumwalye Primary School.
Ezra Nabute, the former head teacher of Nametsi primary school, is the head of the centre.
Nabute says the displaced children from nursery to Primary Five have been registered, while those in upper primary registered at Bumwalye primary school. The schools have a total of 946 boys and 1,055 girls.
Farouk Ssemwanga, the Save the Children emergency education coordinator, says they had expected to have 1,028 school-going children in the camp but the number has nearly doubled. "We have to make adjustments to provide more instruction materials for the teachers, more feeding rations and scholastic materials for the pupils," Ssemwanga explains.
Ssemwanga notes that 23 teachers have been recruited. He says their organisation has trained the teachers on how to handle traumatised children.
Ssemwanga says they are paying the teachers sh100,000 on top of their monthly salaries, while those who were not on the Government payroll get sh150,000 per month. However, the classes are inadequate.
A downpour marks the end of the school-day. "The water enters the classrooms and the floor becomes soggy. Since pupils sit on the floor, we have to send them away to allow the ground to dry. We experience heavy rains in the afternoon.
Therefore we always cancel afternoon lessons," Nabute explains.
The teachers walk 20km to and from the school since there is no accommodation for them at the camp.
Benedict Nasasa, a primary four teacher, says this has often resulted in latecoming.
"By the time you reach school, you are too tired to conduct any lesson. We tried to ask for tents to no avail. They told us we were not vulnerable," Nasasa says.
He adds that the teacher to pupil ratio is too high and that hampers close supervision. This problem has been aggravated by the overwhelming influx of pupils from the neighbouring villages into the study centre.
Each morning, the Uganda Red Cross Society and Save the Children carry out routine screening of the children to ascertain their identities.
Nasasa says most children in the surrounding villages are attracted to the schools by the biscuits and juice provided.
But what is it like teaching children who have lost classmates and close relatives to the landslide?
"At times, you may be introducing a new topic in class and notice the minds of some pupils are far away.
Often in deep thought trying to recount the experience or the intimacy they shared with the deceased persons. As teachers, we do not bark at them but get close to the pupil and try to light up the mood. It takes a lot of patience and tact to handle these pupils," Nasasa observes.
The camp is the temporary home of 3,746 displaced persons. Kevin Nabutuwa, the Uganda Red Cross Society's eastern regional disaster management officer, says whereas the camp has adequate food to last a month, the biggest challenge has been the inadequacy of firewood. She adds that pregnant mothers, who are more than 80 in the camp, do not have delivery kits.
The society is appealing for sh5b to purchase relief items for the next four months.
A first aid tent sits in the middle of the camp. Here, trained Red Cross first aid volunteers attend to patients with mild ailments and refer those with serious sicknesses to Bukigai health centre. The common illnesses are malaria, diarrhoea and jigger infections.
Moses Nabyaka, a Red Cross first aid provider explains that most of the people infected with jiggers at the camp are the elderly, children and the women. Nabyaka notes that the affected do not go for treatment.
"They are ashamed. So they silently nurse the infection. We attend to six people with jiggers daily.
We smear heavy lather of petroleum jelly on the infected feet and hands and tie them with polythene bags. In about 40 minutes, the heat forces the jiggers to pop out."
The UPDF and the police provide the security in the camp. Just at the entrance of the camp is a white tent that houses a police post. Majority of the offences are domestic brawls or fights among co-wives.
The camp has been divided into two wards - A and B, each with its leader chosen by the displaced people. Each tent has a tent leader, too. The ward leaders settle minor conflicts and oversee the general welfare of their areas.
There is lack of consensus between the Government and the people on where to resettle them.
This has partly been manifested in the open defiance by some people to vacate the slopes of Mt. Elgon, which the Government has declared prone to landslides.
At Bukalasi sub-county, where the landslide occurred, some families have abandoned the Bulucheke camp and resettled in their homes. Over 5,000 families displaced by the landslides are expected to be resettled in the next three months.
Kayunga district recently offered seven square miles of land in Galilaaya to resettle the survivors.
The Bududa LC5 chairman, Wilson Watira, explains that the conflict of relocation of the residents arises from cultural beliefs.
"The Bagisu treasure their ancestral land to the extent that somebody would rather die and be buried on his land than relocate. But should we hold on to culture in light of a looming disaster?" Watira asks.
The residents want the Government to find an area with similar weather conditions and soils. The residents propose degazzeting Shiwandu forest reserve in Bubita sub-county.
Ali Wanambwa, the LC1 chairman of Subisi in Bukalasi argues that Shiwandu is within Mt. Elgon and bears similar weather and soils to those in Bukalasi. "We depend on farming for our livelihood.
In 2007 when we had a landslide here, the Government proposed to take us to Bunambutye in Sironko but we resisted because the soils were not conducive for agriculture," Wanambwa explains.
Shiwandu is a strip of land on Mt. Elgon Forest National Park.
In an effort to restore vegetation to the area, the Uganda Wildlife Authority last October signed a memorandum of understanding in which it supplied tree seedlings to plant in Shiwandu forest reserve. In return, the communities were allowed to intercrop in between the trees until the canopy drives them out of the area.
Fred Kizza, the Mt. Elgon deputy area conservation manager, explains that degazzetting Shiwandu forest would spell more danger.
"Shiwandu is located within an area prone to landslides. We have encouraged people to plant trees to mitigate such effects. Resettling people there would bring destructive activities, a recipe for more disaster," Kizza says.
However, Maj. Gen. Julius Oketta, the national coordinator for emergency at the prime minister's office, explains that resettlement will be based on consent. Oketta says within the next four months, the Government will be in position to identify appropriate land to resettle the landslide survivors.
He says the matter is before Cabinet and Parliament. "It's not a simple matter. It will take us some time."
The disaster preparedness state minister, Musa Ecweru, says the Government requires over sh200b to buy land to resettle the survivors.
He says the Government is tackling the issue of resettlement with precaution, to avoid generating land conflicts in the future.
As days wear into weeks and weeks to months, the mystery that remains hovering over the displaced people is when the resettlement plan will put an end to the long speculation.