From Despair to Dedication: Yuma John's Journey as a Community Activist in Bidibidi, Uganda


Yuma with his wife Hellen
Yuma poses in a photo with his wife Hellen after a meeting with partners. Photo: UN Women / Samuel Wamuttu

Yuma John, a 30-year-old South Sudanese refugee, has transformed into a dedicated Community Activist in Bidibidi refugee resettlement in Yumbe district, Northwestern Uganda.

In 2016, as war engulfed Yei County in South Sudan, Yuma witnessed the tragic death of his closest neighbor at the hands of armed soldiers. Fleeing for their lives, Yuma together with his mother, wife and siblings sought refuge in Uganda and were resettled in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in Yumbe district.

As the eldest of five siblings, Yuma had inherited his late father's retail cloth and utensils business, which had been their means of sustenance. The outbreak of war halted his business activities including plans to relocate the business to the safer South Sudanese capital of Juba.

"I initially had not planned to stay in Uganda because I wanted to continue with the business in Juba, which was relatively safer. Unfortunately, I lost the money during my first days in Bidibidi camp. This was a setback for my livelihoods as I struggled to make ends meet," he reflects.

Yuma found himself in dire circumstances, grappling with the absence of income and enduring days without food. The resulting despair led him into depression and triggered violent behavior towards his family, a pattern that persisted even after he got his first child.

"Whenever the child would cry, I would throw my wife out of the house, even in the middle of the night, and she would only return when the child is quiet," Yuma confesses.

The turning point in Yuma's life came in 2022 when UN Women, in collaboration with its local partner Uganda Network on Law Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), introduced the SASA approach in his community of Zone 1, Bidibidi refugee settlement. SASA, an acronym for Start, Awareness, Support, and Action, is an evidence-based community mobilization approach aimed at preventing violence against women and girls. Developed with a blend of theory, practice, and optimism, SASA encourages communities to collectively create safe, violence-free environments for women. Through the generous contribution of the Government of Norway, UN Women working with UGANET is implementing the SASA approach in four refugee hosting districts in Adjumani, Yumbe, Terego and Kyegegwa targeting refugees and members of the host community.

In 2022, Yuma was identified among the youth in his community and participated in trainings on the SASA approach. From the training, Yuma embraced the SASA approach, gained insights into family values and learned how to be a supportive man within the family. Reflecting on the transformation, Yuma shares, "I am particularly glad to have been sensitized about the use of power as a man. Before I attended the training, I did not realize I was mistreating my wife. Since I was sensitized, I apologized to my wife, and we have lived harmoniously ever since."

Hellen Konga, Yuma's wife, attests to the positive change, expressing gratitude to UGANET and UN Women for the impactful training. She acknowledges Yuma's newfound responsibility, noting his increased support in household chores like washing clothes and fetching water from the borehole.

Now a SASA community activist, Yuma channels his experiences to support fellow community members in addressing issues of violence, particularly among women and girls. His story stands as a testament to the transformative power of education and community empowerment, creating a ripple effect that fosters positive change and inclusivity.