Wednesday 8 October 2008

Mary in Uganda

A wrap on the final few days of Crown Princess Mary's visit to Uganda last week. Mary left Uganda last Sunday. After visiting the Taso organisation at a Kampala hospital caring for children and parents with HIV/AIDS on her first day (September 29), Mary and the Danish party with her departed for northern Uganda by plane to visit the Lama refugee camp near Moyo the next day. The following day Mary visited the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp at Lejren near Gulu, still in northern Uganda, near the Sudanese border. In the evening (October 1st), Mary attended an official dinner and gave a speech of thanks to her hosts.

In Moyo Mary visited an area which is finally at peace after 20 years of conflict wrought by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and see FYI also at BBC News: Uganda's LRA rebels. There are fears the peace will not last, and so the attempt to rebuild village life and deal with the serious issues the people face in this area is significant for their future and the future of civil society in Uganda. Mary visited an orphanage in Moyo for 79 children traumatised by war. Five years ago 16 children were abducted by the LRA and two did not return. It is almost impossible to comprehend the plight of the children but great effort is put into giving them an education as a way to rebuild their lives. It seems inconceivable that the LRA can kidnap children from an orphanage and enslave them, but the children in the Moyo orphange are now safer, although this is at the cost of other children in the Congo where the LRA leader Joseph Kony is now abducting children and subjecting them to the unspeakable traumas already committed in Uganda. Uganda has 1.8 million internally displaced people, while, as Mary explained, 5,000 of those have not returned and are still in peril. The Ugandans are fearful the peace will not last and are dependent on aid for repatriation, schooling and health care. Mary found that the refugees seem glad to return home but face many challenges to re-establish their lives. Mary visited a school as a rainstorm hit the area. Mary took refuge and talked to the children who were with her. A lot of emphasis is put on education in a school of seven teachers and 360 pupils. It is not only education of the children which is needed, but also for adults who are re-establishing the agricultural cropping in the area.

Mary met a six-year-old child with HIV who is positive despite both his parents having died from AIDS. He is looked after by his grandmother and is treated at the Taso clinic Mary visited and under pressure since HIV is on the increase again. Abstinence is not a tradition in Uganda. Women have seven children on average and men often have multiple wives. Married men are the most active spreaders of HIV.

The visit by Mary to Uganda has been well covered in the Danish media. The articles have naturally focused on the refugees and the plight of the children in particular. Controlling and treating HIV is just one of the problems the Ugandan government faces, although in this case they have been quite successful. The other major issue highlighted by Mary's visit is the refugee problem in central Africa. The kidnap, murder of their families and enslavement of children has been devastating. In all these instances the children have their childhood brutally taken from them and their lives permanently ruined, even if they escape, as some of the children Mary spoke to had. The Danish Refugee Council will conduct a national fundraising collection in November.
  • Anyone who wishes to make a donation can contact the Danish Refugee Council from this link in English. You can also email in English:

  • Danish Crown Princess Mary ©, patron of the Danish Refugee Council, visits on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 the Redeemer Childrens Orphanage in the north of Uganda, which is home for 79 serious traumatised orphans from Sudan and Uganda. The children sang and told the Crown Princess their different stories, which moved her deeply. In the first photo Crown Princess Mary is photographed in the small plane of the Mission Aviation Fellowship, when she visited Uganda as patron for Dansk Flygtningehjælp. Pilot Simon Wunderli flew the princess and the group from Dansk Flygtningehjælp between Kampala and various sites in northern Uganda (

    Mary (above) visits a displaced persons camp at Lejren near Gulu in northern Uganda, near the border with Sudan.

    Above: Six children were killed by exploding ammunition the week before Mary's visit. Mary siad it was tough to see the children dealing with the landmines left in the area but that it was such important work that the children should be taught how to deal with it. The work is done by the Danish De-mining Group who work closely with local authorities on what is a long term project of many years.

    All photos © Tariq Mikkel Khan/POLFOTO/Scanpix/various sites according to links posted (, Berlingske Tidende, B.T. Billed Bladet,, TV2,, Hello!, ¡Hola!)

    Crown Princess Mary's speech at an official dinner October 1
    Your Highness, Your Excellency, cultural leaders, religious leaders, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
    I would like to start by saying how grateful I am that this trip to Uganda planned over a longer period by The Danish Refugee Council could become a reality. Sitting in Denmark reading and hearing about the situation in Uganda is very one dimensional, but being here and visiting refugee and IDP camps and hearing directly about the challenges facing these people has given me a much deeper understanding of the complexities and hardships facing the people of Uganda. I have no doubt that my experiences here will benefit my role as patron of the Danish Refugee Council in the future.
    Although this is not my first trip to Africa, my husband and I actually honeymooned here, it is the first time I have the opportunity to meet a cultural leader, a leader who has stood as a uniting figure for the people of Northern Uganda.
    During the last couple of days, as briefly mentioned I have visited both a camp for internally displaced people here in Acholi-land and a settlement for refugees in Moyo.
    It has been an experience that will be with me for the rest of my life and I believe, an experience that will come to play a role in how I personally approach life. Without first hand experience of the situation it is difficult to imagine the suffering that the people of Northern Uganda have endured. And despite this suffering I have seen much hope, courage, a will to survive and a will to create a better life.
    And there is hope. Peace has come to both Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda in the past couple of years. People are returning to their villages and fields. The ground is being cleared, roads are being made, schools, clinics and courts are being built. Many people are still waiting to go home. It will take a long time to heal the wounds of such a devastating conflict.
    In this respect and as a Dane, I am proud of the work being carried out by the Danish Refugee Council, the Danish Government and the people of Denmark in supporting Uganda and the people of Uganda on their road to recovery and ensuring peace for the future.
    It is impressive to see the diversity of organisations present here tonight; from the council of cultural leaders, to elders, religious leaders, to women’s organisations and local leaders. I sense there is a very vibrant civil society here that can help show the way to recovery and reconciliation in the future.
    Thank you.

    International Cmpaign to Ban Land Mines
    Landmine Monitor Report 2007: Toward a Mine-Free World - Uganda is on target for removal of all its landmines by 2009-2010. As you can see from this report many countries are tragically not.
    1997 Nobel Peace Prize - Jody Williams - for work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines (thanks Sissi)
    A recent story from The Washington Post via The Sydney Morning Herald 'Rocky road home for 'rebel' army' - which tells of the horrors for the Ugandans once forced to wage war on their own villages by one of Africa's most sadistic rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army.

    Viborg Folkebladet 'Dybt imponeret over Mary' - Deeply impressed with Mary
    A Viborg local and High Court judge who is the chairman of the Danish Refugee Council accompanied Mary on the trip to northern Uganda.
    "I am deeply, deeply impressed!" says Stig Glent-Madsen, on the effort Crown Princess Mary put in during the trip.
    "It is not at all the case that the Crown Princess merely plays a part. She is genuinely engaged with the people she sees and speaks with. I cannot imagine a better representative of Denmark."
    Stig Glent-Madsen also revealed that the Crown Princess, who is the Danish Refugee Coucil patron, arrived very well prepared during each part of the trip.
    "[HRH] had thoroughly read about all the different subjects which were on each of the day's programmes."
    At these planned official events there is always a detailed programme, but this had to be put aside sometimes according to the circumstances.
    One day the delegation stood under some mango trees and listened to official speeches. Suddenly the rain poured down (it's the middle of the rainy season), and everybody had to quickly search for refuge in a small school building. Immediately the Crown Princess engaged in talking to the children, and when the rain stopped and the area had been transformed into a puddle, the Crown Princess insisted on going through it to respect the arrangements without being concerned at all about the mud.
    "At one appointment a local eccentric [the phrase used was 'village idiot'] turned up, dressed in rubber boots, and began to make a speech to the delegation. Again, in that circumstance the Crown Princess took charge of the situation," Glent-Madsen reports.
    It was the Crown Princess' first official journey to Africa as patron for Dansk Flygningehjælp. But she has been to Africa once before, on her honeymoon. This time the situation was entirely different. (by Knud Mogensen

    Photos below by Stig Glent-Madsen ©

    An interview Mary did with the Danish newsagency Ritzau before departing Uganda:
    TV2/Ritzau article 'Dybt bevæget Mary sagde farvel' - Deeply moved Mary said goodbye | 3-10-08
    Crown Princess Mary ended her visit to northern Uganda as patron for Danish Refugee Council yesterday. In an interview with Ritzau [Danish Press Agency], the Crown Princess talks about how the human stories moved her deeply on a journey which also had many unexpected and improvised events.
    For four days the Crown Princess, in plane and car with police and military escort, was met by hundreds and hundreds of refugees and internally displaced people. That took place accompanied by singing and dancing but there were also serious looks in the eyes of deeply poor people, who in the words of the Crown Princess, went through “hell”.
    “Before I left [Denmark] I read and heard a lot about the area and the problems people there face. But I will go home with a human perspective and that is perhaps the most important perspective of them all. I will never be able to fully comprehend what they have been through. But when you see the misery and hear their stories, you get an understanding for what it means,” said the Crown Princess who has “seen things vividly”.
    “If I had a black and white image before, colours/nuance have now been added. It has become more expressive/clearer. It has provided me with a stronger capacity for presenting the problems and solutions, that I have now met the destinies/realities behind it,” says the Crown Princess, who has been surprised in a positive way by the “vitality and human ability to survive” in the people she has encountered.
    The Crown Princess was bombarded during the visit with an assault on her senses in the form of smells, sounds and visual impressions.
    “But the strongest for me has clearly been what my eyes have seen. And it’s things I haven’t seen before: poverty in the eyes of little children. So when I place my head on the pillow at night it takes time to fall asleep. The images of small faces and adult faces move past again and again. You can see on their faces that they have been through a hell. But there is hope,” says the Crown Princess.
    “It’s difficult to let go of these images. They just pop up suddenly. It’s faces and people which have affected me profoundly,” said a deeply moved Crown Princess, who now when the schedule is over, can let go a little bit.
    ”While it’s going on, you try to be as strong as you possibly can. But now when it is over and I have to talk about it, you let go a little,” says the Crown Princess to Ritzau.
    It was not least the meeting with kindergarten children and former child-soldiers at Moyo, which affected the Crown Princess so emotionally and deeply, that the tears forced their way through.
    “The song they sang for us, and the children who individually stood forward and told their own stories made a big impression. But it must also be somewhat healing for them, that they [express in their own] words about what they have been through, because we have seen that a lot during the trip,” says the Crown Princess, who had shown a great ability to improvise when, for instance, a rain storm interrupted the schedule.
    While everyone stood shivering, soaking wet and cold, the Crown Princess spent the time chatting to even more children through the bars of a glassless window in a classroom.
    Also when the Crown Princess talked to shy or traumatised children, who have difficulty saying anything about their problems, the Crown Princess improvised/took a different tack. She then instead asked whether they play football/soccer and who they side with.
    But there have also been lots of big smiles and laughter such as when the Crown Princess visited the Ongako camp for internally displaced people outside Gulu.
    Here she was met by one of the leaders of the camp, who said that he “thought that crown princesses only flew and that people like them would only hear the whoosh of the plane, when the Crown Princess flew over the camp”. And after a couple of hours when the Crown Princess left the camp it was a leave taking dancing in a large group of dancing children and adults.
    There were also lots of smiles when the Crown Princess visited the Lama refugee camp and the Crown Princess’ two bodyguards from PET [Danish VIP protective service] were somewhat surprisingly introduced with their titles and full name in full public glare. That hasn’t happened before.
    There was also cause for a smile when an elderly man interrupted a speech at a health clinic and delivered a somewhat incoherent prayer and presented the delegation of the Crown Princess with a plastic bag with hen’s eggs.
    In the same place when at some point the Crown Princess was in the middle of a big cluster of children she made some of them squeal with laughter when she started tickling them.

    From Billed Bladet (no.40, 2008) | by Anna Johannesen
    The relief organisation Taso helps refugees suffering from HIV or AIDS. While the parents recieve treatment and counselling [should they be at endstage of disease it can be comfort and support], the children are taken care of in the kindergarten during the day time. The children enthusiastically showed Mary their toys and teddy bears and when a boy presented Mary with a present, he was so excited himself, that he helped tear off the wrapping.
    Mary on purpose not bring gifts with her to the children. Mik Steenberger, who is communication manager for Dansk Flygtningehjælp (which aids refugees) said: "That was a deal we made at home."
    Mik Steenberger, the Danish Ambassador to Uganda, Nathalie Feinberg and Mary's Lady-in-Waiting, Caroline Heering, will accompany Mary during the visit to Uganda as will film crews from both DR and TV2. This visit seems to be getting a massive coverage. DR will air a documetary about Mary's visit next Tuesday (links below).
    Towards the end of her visit, a drama song group arrived and showed how it conveys advice in prevention and dealing with HIV and AIDS.
    More than 100,000 children under the age of eighteen in Uganda have contracted HIV or AIDS.
    Mary said: "There are many different impressions when visiting Taso, but a particularly powerful one was to hear about the preventative work. Taso makes a big difference for a lot of people, so that many people can get the most out of their lives."
    She added that the children had made a big impression on her: "But it's always wonderful to be with children."
    Some of the children in this kindergarten have AIDS/HIV.

    TV2 article 'Mary fik mudder under skoene' - Mary got mud on her shoes.
    The Ongako refugee camp in northern Uganda is for internally displaced refugees, i.e.: Ugandan nationals.
    After fifteen years of marauding the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have made a truce with the Ugandan government and there is finally peace in the area. So, the majority of the inhabitants in the camp have returned to their villages.
    Those who are left are the most vulnerable. People with HIV/AIDS, children, single mothers and elderly people taking care of their grandchildren, whose parents are dead. And many are also handicapped. They are victims of mines but not least of all of the LRA's babaric habit of amputating limbs of the innocent.
    They live in primitive, cramped conditions with poor sanitation, few healthcare workers, little medicine and they must queue for hours to get clean water.
    While Mary was there a tropical rainstorm hit the camp. Mary took shelter in a school and had a chat with the pupils. Here she was told that one of the reasons many haven't returned to their villages is because of poverty. They cannot afford schooling for their children. In the camp their children will at least get some education, no matter how primitive the means are here.
    And many schools are burned anyway, so the children often have very far to go to get to school. And added to that, as some of these poor people also take care of the children of dead relatives, they have plenty of problems.
    The rain turned the ground into mud. That did not prevent Mary from visiting many of the huts to see how people live.
    The Danish Refugee Council has so far been responsible for the education, water, sanitation and safety in the area. Their work is continuing, now focusing on helping people to build up their homes again.
    As one of the refugees said: "We have many resources ourselves. We just need help getting started, then we can work our way out of dependance on aid."
    Mary said: "I've seen a strength in your eyes, which I'm confident will lead you to a better future."
    Mary left the camp accompanied by music and dancing, which she took part in herself.
    Later that day she visited a health clinic, which the Danish Refuge Council have equipped with bycycle ambulances.
    She ended the day by visiting a family who has returned to their village and started to tend to their fields again.

    TV2 clip (02:10)
    The main focus was on how the local children are taught how to deal with unexploded ammunition which litter the countryside. They are mainly mortar shells like the 60 mm shell Mary is holding or warheads from RPG's (rocket propelled grenades) and hand grenades. Small pieces of ammunition were dropped all over the place by soldiers on the move. The children are told to mark the spot with two branches placed in an X and then to alert an adult. That education made a considerable impression on Mary. Note from Muhler: After a period the grenades naturally get corroded and the safety mechanisms become very fragile and after a longer period still the high explosives in the ammunition also become unstable, meaning that just a slight touch can make the ammunition go off. Small children, livestock and farmers are the main victims of dropped or unexploded ammunition. Mines are an entirely different matter. They are usually concealed and while you can teach adults and older children to be aware of where they are walking or be very careful about touching objects lying on the ground, with smaller children and livestock it is a very different matter.

    B.T. article 'Vild med dans i Afrika' - Crazy about dancing in Africa | by Morten B. Engelschmidt.
    The Crown Princess lifted the mood when she visited a refugee camp in Uganda yesterday and took part in a dance with small children among others. With a big smile and with light elegance Crown Princess Mary took part in a local African dance with the many enthusiastic children who gathered around her in order to get really close to a genuine princess. With her calm nature and a good deal of patience Crown Princess Mary also used a lot of time to greet the many adults and the many curious children in the camp. But despite the visible emotions of the Crown Princess, you could at times trace a certain sadness in her face. Especially when she chatted with some schoolchildren who have to spend their youth in a refugee camp. They told how dearly they wish to return to the areas they come from and that moved the Danish Crown Princess, who at that point looked like she was about to shed a tear. The entire trip is also a sort of prelude to the Danish Refugee Councils big nationwide collection taking place on the 9th November.

    Jyllands Posten 'Mary i borgerkrigens fodspor' - Mary in the footsteps of the civil war | by Viggo Lepoutre Ravn
    Mary said in an interview with Ritzau after having visited the Lama refugee camp and the orphanage Redeemer Children's Home: "I was a little uncertain on how it would be to visit that orphanage. But I must say that I was surprised in a positive way. They have a lovely home. They have food on the table and they can go to school. But their fate is deeply ingrained in their mind." They were very reserved and that is perfectly logical. There are some tough stories they have to deal with (mentally)". About Esther Meling, whom she met in the Lama refugee camp: "She is a mother of two children. She married a man she met in the refugee camp. She is looking after her two sisters who fled with her and also her husband's oldest sister. They are right now contemplating whether they should return to Sudan. It's a difficult consideration, because where they are now, in the refugee camp, they have access to healthcare and food. And they are also protected because they are refugees, according to international law. But they very much would like to go home. Because it's their motherland, as Esther said." "I have been met by the most friendly and obliging people. The personal stories have left the strongest impression. But I think I had expected more rough conditions. They are rough, but when you see the cheerfulness in the faces of the people, you can easily forget how their lives are".

    B.T. article 'Mary sprænger landmine' - Mary helped detonate a landmine near the town of Gulu in northern Uganda. The Danish demining team DDG Danish Demining Group is working there. Only one landmine was detonated, presumably to provide a safe example of the work being done there.

    Billed Bladet 'Mary omfavnet af lille Claire'

    Unfortunately some media couldn't see the multiple stories of the visit and fixated on princess+landmines=Diana
    Hello! magazine 'Mary evokes memories of Diana with landmine clearing in Uganda'
    ¡Hola! 'Mary de Dinamarca, una nueva princesa contra las minas antipersonal'
    The Sydney Morning Herald 'Princess Mary follows Diana in mine sweep' - this story only appeared online and fortunately (for a supposedly quality broadsheet!) didn't make the hard copy edition
    Similar stories appeared in The Mercury (Tasmania) and most sites (they are all the same with slight local variations)

    Dansk Flygtningehjælp report/gallery (report in Danish)
    Berlingske Tidende gallery photo gallery photo gallery
    TV2 gallery
    TV2 gallery
    Fyens Stiftstidende gallery gallery daily gallery October 2 webTV (01:50)
    TV2 clip (02:10)
    The clip is about a refugee camp in northern Uganda, housing Sudanese refugees. Esther, whom we see here, lives in the hut we see in the clip with her family of four and three adopted children. Her husband is right now in Sudan and Esther expects to follow him soon.
    TV2 clip (01:18) (the all-dancing farewell)
    TV2 clip (02:15) clip (03:02) webTV (01:55)
    CNN clip (01:10) Denmark's Crown Princess Mary takes part in a demining program, as a representative of the Danish Refugee Council


    DR has made a half-hour documentary about the visit called Kronprinsessen i Afrika: - low | - medium | - high

    or webTV

    (can take a bit to load if your connection is slow)


    Many, many thanks Muhler!

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