The ravages of war, an unbearable endurance of life without a parent, and all the vulnerabilities of young girl in a refugee settlement, were just not enough to shatter the dreams of 18-year-old Lina Auma, a refugee from South Sudan.
Auma came to Uganda in 2016 fleeing war at home.
Her description of the fatal night her father died as they fled Sudan is nothing short of emotion.
“We were in Juba in 2016 when war broke out. I was staying with my father; my other brother had travelled abroad. Our mother had succumbed to cancer three years earlier, in 2013. My father is all I had, ” she said, trying to hold back the tears.
“He was shot dead before we entered Uganda. He was my only source of hope and I can’t explain how I felt after his death.”
She continued, letting loose her emotions into a stream of tears rolling down her cheeks. When Lina arrived in Bidibidi, at the height of the influx, she was handed over to a foster parent who took care of her as she tried to look for any of her relatives in the settlement.
Her education was disrupted. She had attended school in Uganda and was in her senior one 2nd term holiday when the war started.
Not having a father to support her with school fees meant no more school for her, at least not in a good private school in Uganda like it was the case before. Lina had to start secondary school all over gain and the condition of the school she joined in the settlement pushed her to say bye to her childhood dream of being a doctor.
“I had always wanted to be a doctor and save lives. This would have happened had I stayed at my former school and had life not turned this challenging. At my new school, everything was less encouraging, the teachers were not enough, the books were not there, no laboratories and there is no way I was going to hold onto my dream.”
Auma then decided to take a shortcut, the arts!
“I had noticed that I had some talent way back in my primary. I however didn’t give it much thought because I wanted my focus to be the sciences. But when all this happened, I revisited my talent in secondary school. I started drawing and painting and I actually realized that I was good at it.” She said.
In 2017, Auma met Canadian artist Sandra Chevrier and several other street artists from Europe and the US. This was during an arts workshop that World Vision organized in Bidibidi settlement in partnership with Apartial, an online community of artists.
The project saw refugee children team up with global contemporary artists that helped them to draw their own empowering art pieces. It’s during this time that Lina painted her renowned Superwoman piece that impressed everyone at the workshop and beyond. “The piece I drew at Swinga Child Friendly Space is about being a superwoman.
The idea behind it is to encourage my fellow girls that they can make it in life and become super women in future. All the powerful women in the world have gone through a difficult moment in their lives but that never hindered them from chasing their dreams,” Auma says.
Since the workshop, Auma’s image has had quite the impact and she has been called on several occasions to talk about it whenever there are visitors at the site.
The image caught the eye of the then World Vision International president, Kevin Jenkins in 2017 when he visited the settlement.
“I met Lina in front of her painting and heard her harrowing story of leaving South Sudan first-hand. She told me how hard it has been for her to make friends – but also how much healing she has experienced in being able to paint this dramatic image.”
He said Auma just completed her senior four and hoping to spend most of her vacation time painting. She is happy she now has some time to concentrate on art and also teach her fellow young refugees how to paint.
“Painting has helped me and I believe it could help my other fellow refugee children. When you are painting, you feel a freedom of the mind and all the terrible memories just disappear,” she said.
“I couldn’t teach them before because I was busy with my school.”
Auma’s art depicts a hope and a future of possibilities, which has helped her to only focus on the good that is ahead as opposed to the ugly past she and her other fellow refugees had to endure back in Sudan.
“I only paint positive things; hope, courage, the future and strengths. That is why among all my pictures there isn’t a single sad one. I just don’t want to relive those terrible moments through my art.”
She explained she would like to continue to senior five but she is worried that this might be a challenge because Advanced Level (Senior 5 and 6) is more demanding and her school doesn’t even have a Fine Art teacher in A ‘level.
She is worried about how her education is going to evolve and emphasizes that it’s one area where she would want help if she is to achieve her new goal and dream in Art.
“I would like to set up an Art Studio in future, big enough to employ as many people as possible. I could have the talent to do this, but I also need the papers (degree). This is why it is important that I first study. My only worry now is how do I proceed if we don’t even have an art’s teacher at school. I just need someone to support my education.” Lina said, with a distant gaze in the far horizon.”