Blount County resident and South Sudan native Betty Asha raised money and organized food donations to Sudanese refugee camps where she helped thousands of refugees escape to in 2016.
The United Nations’ food supply to the camps was cut by 70%
because of a coronavirus lockdown implemented by Uganda in early April.
“It’s hard to get things anywhere because of this unusual situation,” Asha said.
For three weeks, the refugees weren’t receiving any food, she said. Through her efforts, Asha was able to provide two large shipments of food to the camps in April and May.
“African families, they are usually big; each family holds like eight people,” Asha said. “We fed around 4,144 people.”
She said the supplies should last until the end of July.
Asha asked Chris Hurley, her American sponsor, if his company Russell & Abbott Heating and Air Conditioning could provide the funding to purchase the food for the refugees, and the business provided the funding.
In 2019, Asha came to Blount County on a student visa and is studying at Maryville College. She is double majoring in international business and political science. She has ambitions of returning to her home country to work on government reforms.
In 2016, Asha helped 2,296 people escape a civil war in South Sudan.
While she was directly involved in trucking the refugees from South Sudan to bordering Uganda, when Asha wanted to help get them food, she had to coordinate with truck drivers from afar. She told them where to purchase the goods, and when to haul it into the camps.
She found it was difficult to even purchase the supplies because of the lockdown. Uganda is eight hours ahead of East Tennessee, so she directed the food operations during nights, giving up sleep for a week.
“The first time it was really, really hard cause all the work was on me,” she said. “They don’t know what to do. I have to tell them every single step.”
It was much easier for the second distribution in May because her contacts in Uganda knew what to do.
“I was just like watching, I let them lead the whole thing and it was successful,” she said.
Asha got permission from Uganda’s office of the prime minister to deliver food because officials worried that goods could be used as a way to attack refugees.
“It’s unusual; it’s not something everybody does,” Asha said. “They would be freaked out that maybe someone is taking advantage of the situation and sending poisoned food over there.”
However, officials trusted Asha because of her work rescuing refugees.
The refugee camps in northern Uganda are divided by zones, and Peter Amaza, Chairman for Eden Zone, wrote a letter to Asha thanking her for her efforts with the first food shipment.
“The distribution of the food was of great success with a total number of 518 households who received the support,” Amaza said in a thank you letter written to Asha and dated April 27. “We built hope due to your timely support. It’s all thanks to your kind support during this time of crisis.”