Stephen Wandu Bimo contacted the Children’s Music Network in late 2018, seeking songs to share in schools and on the radio with refugee children of the South Sudan. He became a CMN member and since then, he has shared the story of Bidibidi Refugee Camp in Uganda, a refuge for unaccompanied minors fleeing the violence in South Sudan. Stephen tells us:
“Imagine you are thirteen years old. You are at school when your village is attacked, without warning, by armed militia. You hear the crack of gunshots, and everyone runs. Screams fill the air. In the chaos, you manage to find your brother and run home, but your mother is away and you can’t find your father. Wherever you look, there is chaos and panic. You see dead bodies lying on the ground. You are terrified and you don’t know what to do, so you run into the bush. Knowing that you are surrounded by conflict, you decide that the safest option is to travel to a refugee camp, just the other side of the nearest border. You have to walk, mile after mile, with strangers. The only food you have is whatever you can find on the way; the only water comes from unclean streams. You arrive, exhausted, in a camp. You cannot find familiar faces. Life begins at zero.
“This story describes the situation of some 10,500 children in the Bidibidi Refugee Camp. They come from South Sudan, the focus of the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. Since 2013, over 2 million people have left the country to escape fierce civil war. Many are children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents.
“As a musician, I had already had the idea of using song to draw attention to the children’s plight. However, when I arrived at Bidibidi, I became aware that the children didn’t need to have their lives described by me. They needed music themselves, to tell their stories and build their confidence.
“I decided to use fragments of the childrens’ experiences to write songs that they could learn to sing and perform. I had vivid memories of talking to a young boy, aged thirteen, who had arrived in the Bidibidi camp with his brother. In spite of all the adversity he was facing, his message was one of hope: ‘Nothing can hold us down,’ he said. ‘We have gone through the worst kind of situation, but we keep on going. Now no situation scares us anymore.’ I wanted to capture this spirit of resilience, and this became the song ‘Rising Beyond.’ The melody is influenced by traditional South Sudanese music, but with a modern twist. The song expresses a defiance of the suffering and trauma these children have gone through, and a refusal to be stigmatized as refugees in a foreign land. The music is designed to nurture endurance, confidence, self-belief, ambition, and inner strength.”