Facebook Twitter



The barren land inside a Rwandan refugee camp in southern Uganda looked as if a herd of cattle had grazed until nothing was left.

But it wasn't cows that stripped the ground of vegetation. It was people. Starving people. Amanda Burr, a volunteer with a Provo-based humanitarian organization, stared as children, some naked and some clad in torn T-shirts, reached outside the camp's makeshift fence for blades of grass."I watched children pull the grass and fry it up, cook it for dinner that night," she said.

"Everything was of value to them," she said. Even grass.

Burr, 17, didn't anticipate such a scene or many others she encountered during a week in the camp near Kisora. "It was really hard not having been prepared for what I was going to see."

Mostly, she said, she saw desperate people sitting in filth outside mud huts, nothing to do, nowhere to go. "There were sick people everywhere," Burr said. They had no food. No water. No hope.

"I sat there and watched people that were holding on to their last breaths," Burr said.

Observe was about all Burr and other volunteers could do. Ugandan law prohibited them from offering medical assistance within the camp. "That was really frustrating for us. We wanted to give what we had to the people, but we couldn't or we would have gotten into a lot of trouble," she said.

Burr spent five weeks of her six-week internship in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, assisting Provo dentist Larry Francis, who labors for Deseret International Inc., providing dental care for orphans and schoolchildren. Burr, a recent graduate of Timpview High School, returned to Provo Sunday night.

While Burr took the humanitarian opportunity of a lifetime, another Provo woman, a native Ugandan, yearns for the chance to return to her homeland to aid Rwandan refugees.

"I feel I should help those in need as I was helped when I was in need," says Teddy Kaihura.

Kaihura, who has lived in Provo the past 10 years, fled Uganda during the bloody reign of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Friends helped Kaihura escape the country after soldiers imprisoned her trying to get to her husband, who helped in a coup attempt. He had already left Uganda.

She's no stranger to civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Kaihura, whose father was a Tutsi tribesman, said Hutus killed her uncles in 1960. More relatives in Rwanda were slain in the latest round of fighting touched off by the death of Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana in a suspicious plane crash April 6.

"This time they killed one uncle and my three aunties and my cousin and his seven children and his wife," Kaihura said. "My 16-year-old niece was in a school, a boarding school. They went in and attacked the school."

But Hutus are also victims.

Hutu government-backed militias are blamed for killing as many as 500,000 people, for the most part Tutsis but also Hutus perceived to oppose the government. Hutus streamed to Uganda and Zaire the past few weeks fearing Tutsi rebels wanted to avenge the widespread massacre.

Kaihura, who has contact with relatives in Uganda, said she was disturbed to find out that the Hutu government did a "terrible thing." It offered rewards to Hutus for each Tutsi they killed, she said.

"Those people who did are very poor people. They did it without thinking," she says without malice.

Kaihura, now a U.S. citizen, wants to see the tribes unite.

"When I see people die . . . ," she said shaking her head. "Those people who are dying, none of my tribe, they are all Hutu. But I still feel so bad. They are innocent."